Posting of students scores criticized in Somerville

On February 16, 2011, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

School Committee members discuss "data walls." - Photo by Andrew Firestone

Legality of data walls questioned by School Committee member

By Andrew Firestone

A dispute over posting of student test scores divided the School Committee last week and inspired heated discussions between parents and school administrators over possible damage the posting of scores might have on children’s self esteem, including reports of a young child who believed she was being told she was “stupid.”

Superintendent Anthony Pierantozzi said he opposed prohibiting the posting of scores. “I’m concerned that a prohibition of this will do more harm than the protection it wants to do,” said Pierantozzi, who addressed school committee concerns over the measure aided by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Vince McKay, and Senior Consultant from Focus On Results Dr. Janice Sonata  “One of the problems of aggregate data in everyone, is that  it’s less motivation for students individually who would be motivated by it, because it clouds the individual differences in growth.”

Ward Five School Committee member Mark Niedergang, opposed the displays and questioned their legality under privacy laws.

“The issue for me is, instead of ‘Focus on Results’, it seems ‘Focus on Testing,” he said. “By putting the individual test results on the wall, it creates the test as the end. That’s not what an education is in my mind, that’s not what I want for my kids.”

Focus On Results was brought to oversee the implementation of this framework in an effort to bridge the achievement gap found in Somerville schools. The educational framework involves using public displays of student test score improvement from the MCAS and other mandatory tests, along with individual student-teacher meetings with the scores to discuss areas of growth for the student. The “data walls” are part of the program, designed to give students an idea of where their place is within their class from grades two though eight.

Sonata, who had worked in various roles while implementing a similar framework in Glendale, California, said she had never before heard of this kind of complaint.

“We actually put up names. Kids wanted to know where they were,” she said. “We didn’t get any push back.”

Sonata said that the reasons for posting the individual scores was so students could more easily track their own progress, and feel united in their growth with the colleagues. “We saw the benefits of students being accountable and feeling responsible for their own learning,” she said.

Niedergang said the practice was a mistake if even a minority felt negative repercussions. “It’s clear the kids are finding out whose data is whose,” said Niedergang, “I don’t feel like that’s ok. That is not good for a learning community and I don’t want that in our schools.”

Ward Six School Committee member Paul Bockelman, who said he felt that the emphasis on test scores underlined a negative transition in educational values, joined Niedergang in opposition to the superintendent’s recommendation. “This elevates the focus on testing to a preeminent place,” he said.

Ward Three member Adam Sweeting said he saw potential in the measure in its ability to firmly place the impetus of learning upon the students by transparently including them in the process. “Nothing is better than when learners take control of it, so that education doesn’t happen to them, it’s something they will remark on as learners.”

Ward Two Committee member Teresa Cardoso said that even though she had reservations about the testing system, she was in favor of the displays and believed the potential harm negligent.

“I bet if you went into one of those classrooms and you sat with those 16 or 20 students and asked them, they wouldn’t have any problem with it,” she said. “They probably wouldn’t even know anything different was happening.”

“I’ve heard a lot more good than bad,” she said.

Pierantozzi said that due to the highly individualized methods that are used in the program, different classes will have different ways of displaying data. He said that the administration was quick to address any grievances that students might have such as an incident which had already occurred due to the data walls.

“That student felt that that student would be an outlier in a small group of individuals in that student’s class,” he said. “Conversation with the student and the principal, conversation with the student, the principal, the parent, myself; it was solved.”


8 Responses to “Posting of students scores criticized in Somerville”

  1. Renée Scott says:

    I have been following the debate on data walls for a few weeks now, and I find the arguments put forth by teachers and administrators to be very confusing. Some say that their purpose is to help each child see their progress throughout the year and learn from that visual display. Others say that they don’t think children are very aware of them. Some say that that the data walls should be displayed in a way that minimizes their impact and obviousness. Others say that it is up to individual teachers to determine the best way to have the walls for their own class.

    If the word from the school superintendent is that the point of these walls is to show students how they are doing and create competition within themselves, then how does minimizing their visibility accomplish that? Either the City should embrace them, advertise and celebrate them, and expect public scrutiny and debate, or not have them at all. Trying to appease both sides by having them up but not so you or the children would know what they are, seems pointless to me. If Mr. Pierantozzi truly believes that they are a helpful teaching tool, he should be proud of that, and also be willing and able to defend and explain his position.

  2. jamie says:

    Ask any student in any grade, and they can tell you which kids in the class are doing well, and which kids are struggling. Which reading or math group is for the ‘smart’ kids, and which is for the ‘regular’ or ‘struggling’ kids.
    Rather than worry about these data walls which most kids probably pay very little attention to, let’s eliminate the practice of having your ‘friend’ who sits in the next aisle correct your papers. If you want to look at something that’s demeaning, this is it. And how about having students pass out tests or homework for the teacher?
    Let’s worry about something that really makes a difference.

  3. Ruth says:

    “I bet… those 16 or 20 students… wouldn’t have any problem with it,…They probably wouldn’t even know anything different was happening.” Ms. Cardoso, you couldn’t be more wrong. Most educators know that failure to meet imposed public goals often results in humiliation, timidity, and lowered self-esteem. It is also against Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to make public students test scores.

  4. j connelly says:

    NO!….NO!….NO!… The NWC trying to take over the schools. There are enough problems in the schools with bullying, peer pressure, etc. Posting individual student information violates students rights.

    It is dead wrong and anyone who thinks otherwise lacks good common sense. Anyone holding a city job who was involved in it should be terminated. You can be sure if it was anything similar involving the school superintendent/teachers/committee personnel having similar type info about themselves being publicly posted, it would never happen in this “city of transparency”. Geez maybe I should run for School Committee!

  5. Ron Newman says:

    What is the NWC? (I do not see any organization with these initials mentioned in the article)

  6. j connelly says:

    ‘Ron’..your not paying attention, it has been repeatedly used in the past..
    N(ew) W(ave) C(ommunists), notice It has been listed in P(olitically) [un] Correct verbage. Funny how none of them have denied being (NWC) in the past….makes one wonder, hmmm……

  7. Comrade Hilton says:

    Good to see that the loyal opposition — the NWI (New Wave Idiots) — are still willing to amuse us with their blather. It makes taking over so cordial. Remember now, we are coming, so hide your daughters.

  8. j connelly says:

    “hide your daughters”? Better hide your sons, dogs, cats, etc., The comrade sounds dangerous. Level 4????

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