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What’s the deal with data walls?

Every day we walk in and out of our classrooms, passing by the unknown data walls strewn with tables, graphs, and charts that seem to rarely come up in conversation or teaching at Wilson. They are in every single classroom, yet almost no one seems to know why. So, what’s the purpose of these data walls?

Data walls are proof of Wilson’s statistic information. The walls, which are required by DCPS to be in every classroom, include rates of truancy, graduation, AP class passing, PARCC & SAT scores, math/reading comprehension, and much more. Some data walls also include a “Comprehensive School Plan,” a chart of DCPS goals for the school throughout the year.

The goals listed include focusing on literacy, closing the achievement gap, working more on college and career readiness, and raising promotion rates. A plan to achieve these goals and a person responsible for said plan are outlined on this chart as well. Essentially, the data walls are an overall look at the school’s performance and goals to improve it, but are they used effectively by students and teachers?

Upon surveying Wilson students, the Beacon  found that 70 percent of students surveyed were unaware of what a data wall was. Furthermore, 85 percent of students surveyed were unable to accurately describe the purpose of data walls  or even what they are. A minimal 17 percent said they knew where to find a data wall at Wilson, and nearly 65 percent of students said they’ve never read or looked at one at all.

The data walls are provided to teachers and they are then requested to display them, yet it is not necessary to mention them to their students. “I don’t find them useful, unless used very purposefully and I think they generally aren’t,” said World History and Bilingual Education teacher Jonathan Shea.  He stated that he thought they could be used more effectively if statistics such as class-specific average scores and missing assignments were posted on them. However, he also said that online grading systems, such as Aspen, partially take over the “data wall role” and therefore reduce the need for a paper display.

Janis Alexander, an Algebra 2 teacher, uses a different approach with her data walls. She believes that in a classroom, there must be an “element of high standards seen.” She sets a goal of a one hundred percent pass rate for her students, tracks the students’ test data, and reviews her teaching methods if she sees a discrepancy. “Teachers should set goals, and the data is the teacher’s progress report,” Alexander said. She noted that the data shouldn’t be meaningless and should “reflect where the classes stand.”

Opposing Alexander’s view and approach, English and Film Studies teacher Belle Belew believes that data walls hold absolutely no significance. She states that each teacher is given a data wall at the beginning of year and they are then required to post them on their walls. She says she has almost no idea as to what they are because they are not told, leading her to believe even more in their insignificance. Belew believes they “do not have any impact at all” and sees them as only a “[way] to get us [teachers] a rating downtown.”  •