Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Test Score Data Displayed in Hallways

When I recently subbed at a local elementary school I was saddened to see 4sight interim test score data on a chart in the hallway with little owls (the school mascot) colored in by students and used to rank children as advanced, proficient, basic, or even (gasp!) below basic. How demoralizing. The children are tested on material they have not even learned yet, and then publicly ranked as winners or losers, as they are compared with their peers. Teachers are required to display these horrible charts. The data charts I saw were displayed near the boy's or girl's bathrooms. Seems like appropriate placement considering that they really belong in the toilet. Names are not used on the charts (thank goodness), but each student has colored in a cute owl, so they know who is who. The fifth grade chart says "We Give A Hoot" and stickers are used to represent children. Really? This is supposed to empower children to improve and be active participants in learning? This is how we celebrate effort and achievement?

I am against publicly posting any personal information that might make a student feel like he or she has something to be ashamed about. I believe the test score data charts are in violation of student confidentiality and privacy. It encourages students and parents to focus on test data, instead of the whole child. Children are not data points. Through my internet research I have discovered that this ridiculous practice of creating "data walls" that show test scores has resulted in teachers getting very creative. Such cruel irony: using art to represent the cold world of standardized test data! I have come across some really elaborate data walls used in younger grades with scenes of rocket ships headed toward the stars,inch worms inching forward, trains forging ahead, fish swimming upstream, ladders to success. I guess making it attractive to kids helps to desensitize, but it's really just shameful turd polishing. And what a waste of time, since the teacher could be teaching an actual art lesson, since art has been cut from the curriculum.

Interim testing does not measure critical thinking, creativity, or divergent thinking skills. It measures a narrow set of skills. Some kids are very
smart, but have test anxiety. Maybe a student had a bad day and scored low.

Is it fair to those children to be publicly labeled as "below basic" and then reminded of this every day? This is wrong and immoral, especially in a high poverty school district where kids have more than enough emotional baggage to deal with every day. Why can't we just focus on making these kids feel safe,happy,comfortable, and loved at school? Then they will improve academically. We should celebrate their talents through displays of art, best work, and performances, not just test scores.

According to well respected assessment expert Dr. James Popham, interim assessments like 4Sights are not even supported by research evidence. See:
Research shows the tests are not valid, have a high margin of error, yet schools are misleading parents and students into believing that these tests have value and are very important. According to a local newspaper report which I wrote about (See my post ) the 4Sights don't even align with state standards. Some districts have dropped the 4Sights. These tests are costly, and take away valuable instruction time. Our district spends around 90k per year on administering 4Sights. 4Sights are supposed to give information to teachers, so why do we display test results for students? Students will view the tests as competition because the charts remind them of how they rank compared with other students. Children become numbers, and this kind of objectification can lead to exploitation of children by for-profit testing companies. Testing is big business. A school is not a business, it's a learning environment where children grow and develop. School is about students, not profits.

The public display of test score data, no matter how artful and pretty, sends a message that the school cares more about the data than the whole child. Private student portfolios, and teacher's formative assessments are the the best practices, NOT public comparison. Can you imagine how the child feels who must see himself as the poor little "below basic" owl, or even a "basic" owl left alone at the bottom of the chart? So sad. This has got to stop, parents should be outraged. Our children are not data points. I noticed that the "art gallery" bulletin board in the hallway was completely empty. Such a sad commentary on the state of public education due to the narrowing of curriculum, budget cuts and test driven education policies. Our children deserve much better than this. If you really "give a hoot" please speak out. Teachers are not speaking out, because they could lose their jobs. But I will speak out as a parent, in support of my own baby owl, who is so much more than a data point, and anything but "basic."

Pictured: A really elaborate 4th grade data wall in Columbus


Mrs. Dottie said...

Hey, this post got some national attention! It was posted at The Owl Report and at several education pages on Facebook.

I looked at a colorless bulletin board today (it used to be a colorful student art gallery), it asks "where will your path lead you?" It has pictures of Muhlenberg college. It's nice to have clear goals, but why can't kids just be kids for a while? These are elementary school children. Let's celebrate who they are, not who we want them to be.

Elizabeth Collins said...

Great points, Angie. I hate the 4sight tests (more tests...simply leading to the PSSA tests). It's all about teaching to the test, these days, and it's ruining education.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Hi Elizabeth. With states trying to "win" the Race to the Top grant money, the stakes are even higher, with even more testing, tied to teacher evaluations. Arne Duncan has got to go. I am disappointed in Obama's education policies. Education is not a race with winners and losers.

Ruth said...

I'm with you, Angie, and all the teachers at my grade level meeting said, "No way" when our administration tried get us to use "Data Walls". I'm really wondering where did this horrible idea come from? Most teachers know better. I wonder if the idea comes from the billionaire businessmen and their "market theory" reform. They could do more to serve our children if they spent a little energy on reforming their amoral business practices. They should leave the education reform to educators.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Ruth, good to hear that teachers at your school said no to data walls! The chief administrative officer in our district told me that the data charts are supposed to motivate children! It boggles my mind that a veteran educator would think that way, I think she is just going along with bad ideas to keep her high paying job. Thanks for commenting.

Nancy said...

I thought posting grades like this was against some school regulation. Even universities post a number.