What’s the problem with data walls?
The introduction of data display walls in schools, including in Brisbane Catholic Education schools, is creating member concern about student privacy and teacher workload.
Members remain concerned about being sidelined from crucial decisions about how student learning should be measured and how to best assess and respond to individual student needs.
A recent Productivity Commission report from an Inquiry into the National Education Evidence Base has recommended expansion of data collection procedures, including an extension of the national testing regime to Year 1 students.
IEUA-QNT Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Paul Giles said the emergence of data walls, and similar devices or schemes to track individual student learning, is one element in a broader policy push by federal, state and territory governments to increase teachers’ engagement with student data.
“This push is occurring across all sectors of schooling and is based on an assumption that, in the absence of national and international testing regimes, teachers do not collect sufficient quality data on student learning,” Mr Giles said.
“This is a patently false assumption, but one that has captured the imagination of policy makers at all levels of government.
What are data walls?
Data walls are physical displays of student names/images, assessment results and general learning progress that are regularly updated by teachers throughout the course of the school year.
When data walls are used correctly, they can be a valuable tool which leads to an improvement in student learning.
“The purpose of data walls should be to guide future planning and development of strategies to support students that need further development. To achieve these goals, a culture of shared responsibility amongst employees is essential,” he said.
Engagement with student outcomes data is a professional requirement for teachers, and is embedded in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, Australian Professional Standards for Principals and School Leaders, Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework and the National School Improvement Tool.
“As currently implemented however, the use of data walls are all-too-often made without full consideration of their impact on student privacy, student/ teacher development, teacher workload and professional autonomy.”
“While data collection is of value for teachers to track student learning, our union takes issue when the collection of data diminishes or reduces the one-to-one student-teacher interactions that are essential for effective teaching and learning.”
Privacy concerns arise when student names, images and achievements are displayed in locations that may be accessible to those other than teachers.
“The physical positioning of data walls should be limited to professional learning spaces, such as staff rooms, to aid discussion with colleagues.
Data walls should not be positioned in classrooms, libraries or areas open to students and non-teaching staff,” he said.
If there is an expectation that teachers should adopt data walls, workable guidelines for privacy should be developed at the school-level to not only safeguard children’s privacy but also teacher judgment. In addition to this, the specific use of the data wall and its location should also be developed within these workable guidelines.
Mr Giles said student labelling and the potential of publicly shaming lowperforming students serves a limited purpose and may be detrimental to both students and teachers as it does not reflect the complexity of factors influencing student achievement. Excessive emphasis on numerical targets also detracts from more significant issues around the actual learning that is or isn’t taking place.
“This is particularly the case when data collection cycles are too short to allow planning and implementation of meaningful learning programs.
“Most learning programs already incorporate numerous points for collection of student data that provide more accurate and meaningful insights to inform classroom practice,” he said.
Expectations of teacher involvement in data generation, recording and publication are often unrealistic given the lack of provisions to support engagement at the level expected.
“Increased workload with no additional time release and a lack of allocation of school officers to assist with students requiring additional support puts teachers under even more pressure.
“It is counter-productive for teachers to spend inordinate amounts of time on data tasks at the expense of teaching,” he said.
Prescriptive approaches to teaching practice may also inadvertently constrain individual teachers from working to the best of their ability by privileging externally-focussed ‘professional conversations’ over personal reflection on practice.
“Teachers should be given appropriate professional development to access, understand, reflect and act on student data.”
Working with technology
With most schools having access to IT platforms that are more accessible to teachers, the open display of data walls could be reconsidered and instead utilised digitally to provide a comparable output without compromising student privacy.
Mr Giles said by storing data electronically, information on student progress can easily be tracked and updated, while ensuring privacy of student data and performance is maintained.
“Schools already digitally store comprehensive data on student learning, so why would there be a need to have a double up of information?”
Members who are concerned about the use of data walls in their school, the additional workload and student privacy should contact our union on FREECALL 1800 177 938.
This article was extracted from the November 2016 edition of Independent Voice.