Why I Struggle with Data Walls

What is your opinion on data walls?

My perspective is that data walls have several limitations. First, data walls are usually comprised of mostly summative and formal assessment data. Conferring notes and other important pieces of qualitative student information often do not make it on the wall. I also struggle with the immobility of data walls. When expert teachers formatively assess their students, many times they make smart conclusions about their students’ needs during the flow of instruction. Teachers don’t then stop their teaching and say, “Hold on to that thought, because I need to move you along the data wall!” Responsive teachers use that information to alter their immediate instruction in order to provide their students with the best teaching possible. Thirdly, hosting data walls focuses an inordinate amount of attention on outcomes and not enough time on the thinking processes of students. Great teachers, in my humble opinion, try to climb inside their learners’ heads to find out what they know and are able to do. They then use this information to provide feedback. This helps their students generalize the strategies that will allow them to be self-directed learners.

This does not even consider the fact that much of our assessment data can now be housed digitally. Even conferring notes can be stored in applications like CCPensieve and Evernote. I don’t know, I could be way off base on this. My school have dabbled with student data walls in the past. They often only seem to heighten awareness of strengths and deficiencies, but rarely change practices. Maybe I have not used them with fidelity, or given them enough time to flourish. What has changed practices in my school is having a strong set of learning beliefs that everyone owns + systems in place (i.e. instructional walks) that hold ourselves accountable for implementing teaching strategies that work.

What is your experience and current position on data walls? Please share in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District, also in Wisconsin (http://mineralpointschools.org/). He also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

8 thoughts on “Why I Struggle with Data Walls”

  1. I also struggle with data walls. It’s normal old news that doesn’t help our students or us. We are trying to work on displaying student goals. Students have computational fluency goals on commitment cards that are placed in the hall. The data for the student is on the back of the card and whole grade data is next to the display. The information becomes relevant for the student and they can explain it too our parents.

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  2. I’m with you on this one Matt. I think there are many other pieces of non-standardized, non-normative data that go into determining a students growth and understanding of concepts and data walls usually don’t contain those types of formative assessments. Making judgments on instructional practices needs to be more fluid than having to wait for a benchmarking period to come around. I also don’t like having to move conversations to a certain room. Data can be accessed from anywhere now, so why bother with a wall somewhere. Put the wall on your laptop or iPad and access wherever you are.

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    1. That’s the biggest thing we struggle with Tom – where do you physically put it? Locating it in one spot makes it hard to access, especially in a two story building like mine. We tried mobile data walls for each grade level. However we had to store them away between grade level teams. Same problem with access. I agree Tom that digital is the way to go, as long as we can ensure security of the student data.

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  3. We think the process of data walls can be really powerful. You pushed our thinking and inspired up to write! You might even get us thinking about digital data walls! We don’t know how to do that yet… but we think it will be fun to try! Here is the link to our post on data walls –http://assessmentinperspective.com/?p=463 We would love to hear your thoughts.

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    1. Sorry I did not respond right away. I read your post you referenced. It left me with a lot to think about and digest. What you say really makes sense. Data walls are there to prompt deep conversations about students’ needs and best practice. Below are the lines that resonated with me the most:

      “Data walls are only as useful as the conversations we have to maintain them…What matters is the reflection and the changes we make to the instructional plan.”

      Reflection and change – the essence of responsive teaching! Your book and blog are resources are often come back to clarify my thinking. I am smarter with the both of you in my PLN.

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