- Classroom data walls are cropping up in more schools, displaying individual student and/or group performance on tests and other benchmarks, as a means of motivating students to improve their scores, says an article from EdSurge. Teachers also use them a way to see data trends from one class to another.
- The growing practice, however, has critics who maintain that emphasizing comparisons is a waste of time, and that mastery orientation is a far more productive mindset for most students than the performance mindset these charts engender. Some research shows, however, that middle school students — who tend to be more motivated by competition than younger students — might indeed be somewhat inspired by data walls.
- Either way, legal experts agree that data walls, even those that don't obviously attach scores to individual students, can run afoul of federal and state privacy laws.
Data-driven educational practices have their benefits, but interpreting that philosophy into data walls, where students can potentially feel embarrassed or defeated by seeing their performance posted publicly, can backfire. As data-driven education models become more popular, critics are raising a variety of cautions.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has increasingly funded states to collect and analyze data about students, ranging from grades to attendance and behavior traits. ED recently announced regulations, which emphasize "ensuring the use of multiple measures of school success based on academic outcomes, student progress, and school quality."
The argument in favor of data transparency is that the more we know about students, the better able we are to help them. But displaying all of the details can threaten a low-performing student's sense of belonging, which goes hand in hand with academic motivation. Interestingly, even the star performers can languish under this kind of motivational system, when taking into account that extrinsic rewards that typically come along with data walls can depress their ability to be propelled by intrinsic motivation.
The authors of a recent National Education Policy Center report, meanwhile, noted that "Schools have proven to be a soft target for data gathering and marketing. Not only are they eager to adopt technology that promises better learning, but their lack of resources makes them susceptible to offers of free technology, free programs and activities, free educational materials, and help with fundraising." Those sorts of concerns go beyond how data collection in schools might affect student motivation to how that data might be used by outside entities now and in the future.