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Becoming One With Data Walls in Your Classroom

By Rhonda Stewart on October 24, 2013
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Have you heard the words, “DATA, DATA, DATA” in your sleep recently? In all of my 25+ years of teaching, never has there been such an emphasis placed upon data as I have seen in the last couple of years. Back in the Stone Age when I first started teaching, my thoughts regarding data were centered around grading tests and student work, transferring those grades to a grade book, and creating an honor roll. Fast forward to 2013, and my thinking has changed. Now, when data is mentioned, I think of external data (information from my New Jersey state assessments, i.e. NJASK) and internal data (information from class and grade/content specific assessments). I think of how data drives instruction not only for my students, but for the students in my district, state, and even the country. It affects the way instruction is delivered in the classroom.


Why Data Walls

My school district requires that at the end of each school year, teachers develop their own Professional Development Plan (PDP). This gives teachers an area of focus for their instruction. This year, I decided to step out of my comfort zone to research data walls and create my own in my classroom. I chose this as a means to truly assess my students’ strengths and weaknesses and to guide them towards success. Who knew I would be awakening the sleeping math teacher inside of me? I also looked at data walls as a way for the students to be accountable for their work, reflect upon their learning, and how they fit into the scheme of the classroom. After all, shouldn’t the students be held accountable for their learning?

I have to be honest, I am new at this. As teachers, we have always been collecting and analyzing data on our kids to notice trends in student learning, especially for common assessments and standardized tests. But we have yet to use it consistently in the classroom — that’s the new part.


 Pearls of Wisdom — If you are just starting with data walls, keep it basic. I attempted to create data charts for every assessment and activity in my classroom and soon became overwhelmed. I remembered my mantra of “keep it simple” and made myself breathe and refocus. Make a decision as to what you feel is most important to be displayed. Also remember to consider what type of graphs would be appropriate for the information you are presenting.


Choosing Topics for Data Walls

One of my biggest concerns as literacy teacher is the fidelity and integrity of student reading logs. I decided to create data walls about their work as readers. The data walls would reflect their growth as readers based upon their reading levels from running records and using the information from their at-home and in-school reading logs. And in this way, students get to see and reflect upon their work.


Data Wall Samples

In creating the class bar graphs, scatter, and dot plots, I had to call upon the spirit of math teachers past and present to assist me. It has been awhile since I have taught math and my students were a big help as well. It was great for them to see the connection between math and literacy in real life application. I hope these inspire you to plot your own data, but if you have new ideas, please share them here.

Bar Graph

Scatter Plot


Line Plot


Comments (102)

504 is the room number, silly.

This is child abuse, mental abuse, and emotional abuse to the struggling learner. Hold your data in a PRIVATE place, but don't set students up for ridicule and bullying by other kids. A lawsuit in the making.

How about posting each one of your paychecks or your weight? Seems only fitting the teacher share in this glorious display of data.

I am a special ed teacher and I would never do this to my kids. They already know they are struggling and behind. To post it on the wall is cruel and robs them of confidentiality! Bad teaching practice!

This goes hand in hand with CCSS. In math, the teacher walks around while students work in pairs on how to solve a problem. The teacher selects 2 or 3 pairs to put their work in the board. Only one pair has worked it correctly and they, of course, go last. The poor kids who haven't worked it correctly are the sacrificial lambs. I'm sick of all of this mess! We are hurting our kids beyond believability! If this were presented as a story, it would bring to mind all of the futuristic literature we used to teach as fiction.

SMH. This article is written by a TFA (Teach for America) teacher! No wonder it doesn't make sense. No authentic teacher would condone such off the wall antics. Amazing what a little google research can do. This is shameful. Unbelievable. See link below!

PS: Enjoy this while it lasts. I'm sure my comment will be pulled.


Perhaps you should have done your research BETTER before posting your comment. This article is written by a seasoned master teacher with 25 years of experience in public schools. She is not now, nor has she ever been the person on your link. You have no business coming onto this blog and maligning the author. What is shameful is YOUR comment.

I don't know whether the author is a TFA teacher or not, but I would like to know why you seem to think Teach For America teachers are not authentic teachers? These are teachers that voluntarily choose to teach in inner cities and other high need areas. Schools where many teachers are unwilling to teach. In many cases these teachers have chosen to put their lives on hold to teach where they are most needed. I say bravo for TFA teachers and boo to you!

That's a dumb comment. She's been teaching twenty five years. TFA hasn't been around that long.

I use a data wall with student names to track their learning of sight words. We have 16 lists, and each one they get a paper egg in their bird nest. D other students in the class see it? Yes. Does it reward those who are doing the work at home and provide recognition? Yes. Does it motivate my students to learn their words and help them to become more fluent readers? Yes. I have had no complaints from any of my parents. I have, however, had several parents realize their child is performing at lower levels than their peers and begin to do something about it.

I will put up your post and have my kids correct your grammar.

The more I see this, the hotter I get.
How about a data wall for administration! Let's post their evaluation scores~conducted anonymously by teachers! Let's post their schools increase or decrease in the almighty SCORE! If their school's score drops then by hell that administrator MUST be doing something wrong and should be fired.

All effective teachers keep 'data' on their students. We just choose to use data from our own lessons and units. And we DO NOT publish it for the world to see and then judge them. Not some superfluous score on some meaningless standardized test. A test that the students take at the end of the school year. Then receive the SCORE halfway through the 1st semester of the following year. No DATA is provided, other than being COMPARED TO THE SCHOOL, DISTRICT AND STATE scores. No feedback on what they did well on and what they missed.

My middle school students are now having to endure 34 standardized tests "to prepare them for the end of year CC$$ tests" BS!
This testing and data data data craze has NOT ONE THING to do with helping individual students succeed. Their only purpose is to make schools and districts look good or bad. It all depends on how you manipulate your data.

What business is going to ask "What were your KPREP scores from middle school?" "What was you EOC algebra II score from high school?" Not one damn place.

Yeah, none of these critics are in the State of New Jersey. Have a seat already!
Foolish folks thinking that kids names would be exposed...

We do measure growth in education...ours included thanks Gov. Christie.


By the way, great job on the data wall Rhonda Stewart. You seem to have displayed the required data in a thoughtful way, and preserved the dignity of your students. Bravo!

People! This is the teaching reality today! I have been a teacher for 17 years, and for all the years I have been in public education (6), everything is based on DATA. You are right! It's despicable. Do something about it! Teachers have no say in the matter. It all comes from administration, who gets it from the district, who gets it from the state, who gets it from the federal government. It makes me sick, but if I want to keep my job, then I'll do what I'm told. Seriously, your VOTE matters. Please help us by speaking up not only with ballots, but at school board meetings and by writing state and federal senators and representatives. Without people standing up for what is right, children will be just numbers. It is NOT the teachers' fault for trying to keep their jobs.

Thank you! You get it! Now the rest of you guys can back off my colleague!

Ohhhhh, but the students ARE learning.
They are learning what they are and ARE NOT. . .


Blame the system of education not the people forced to follow it. I saw that up worthy video with the sensationalized title.
Did that even happen in US?

This is a piece for The Onion, right? Because we are talking about education not some business. We are talking about students who can own their learning without being in constant competition with everyone else in the room. We ARE talking about students right?!? STUDENTS ARE NOT DATA POINTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Why don't you express your disdain to the right people? Not this teacher, but the Governor of NJ, Chris Christie? He created this mess. This teacher is NOT the person you should be attacking.

It seems to me that this teacher is proud that she can create 6th grade graphs. Seriously, this type of thing does NOTHING to improve teaching or learning.

Each student could be given a data number so that it is "confidential." Funny how many teachers object to names on the data, but I do walkthroughs in classrooms all the time where students' names are written under headings such as, "No Homework", "No Recess", "Unfinished Work" and that doesn't seem to bother anybody, nor does the students names being posted on how many AR points they have or names above colored cards that indicate daily classroom behavior. However, if you call it data, all the sudden everyone is worried about confidentiality. Like it or not, parents, legislators, and others in the public want us to be accountable for students' academic achievement. I think the discussion should be what do we measure and how often so that it is meaningful and drives our instruction in an academically purposeful direction. I spent 19 years in the classroom. the first nine were spent with no regard to data and the last 10 was data driven. I benefited greatly from the data because instead of thinking I knew what my students had mastered, I could know with certainty what they had mastered and how to best group students to differentiate instruction. I would never want to go back to the "good ole days" of throwing a bunch of curriculum at students and hoping it stuck.

The difference: FERPA applies to "educational records". This data certainly looks like educational records, not a quick note on the board to remind kids they haven't passed in an assignment.

This practice is despicable! It's like "Hunger Games" for the classroom!

I can only presume this is a parody piece.

We take a weekly math probe and this is the data my students graph. It is in their math notebook and other than me and their parents, no one sees the data. They graph the percent correct and use it to monitor how their math skills are improving. I would not make this information public (on the wall).

This is an acceptable Data Wall.

Everything we know about student motivation and what drives learning says this is wrong, wrong, WRONG.

It violates kids' privacy, offers nothing to them to improve learning, and demotivates many.


And yuck to Scholastic for posting something so inappropriate.

There are NO children's names on the charts...she's a season professional and knows better. Perhaps the requirements and expectations for our district are different than where you guys work...guess no one here thought about WHY it is being done before you started to squabble and ridicule her work????

Exactly, Kaz. The comments are harsh, judgement, and way over the top. Rhonda has taken a mandate from our district and made a lovely display. It meets our district requirements, it preserves the anonymity of the students and it gives the students feedback on their growth. She is to be commended, not ridiculed.

Scholastic! What are you thinking???? There is absolutely no reason for these to be made public in a classroom. And guess what, even if anonymous, the students figure out which scores belong to which children. This is a time suck, make work project for teachers when they should be planning engaging lessons, finding resources and honing their craft. There is NO benefit to the children what so ever. Stick to selling books and leave the teaching to teachers.

I'm disgusted that this is what teaching has turned into

no names on the chart - what kind of attack is this?

I agree that tracking data is important and believe it should be the students tracking their own data. My students take a weekly math probe and keep a bar graph of how they do each week (%). I also keep this data and use it to place students in MTSS groups.

That's great for you, Anonymous. You obviously aren't required to have data walls in your classroom. I wish it were true for us, but it's not. We HAVE to keep data walls. Given that this is a requirement, I think Ms. Stewart has done a great job presenting this information.

Why should data EVER drive our instruction? Why are the needs of the children not the major driving force, or the joy in learning even? Data can certainly inform my instruction, but it will Never. Ever. EVER! drive it.

It's not clear from this article or the photos whether the data being shown is individual - which I wouldn't agree to - or collective - which will not really give you the data you need to help individual students, or to help the students truly reflect on their own work. I'm not saying there's no place to display data ever, but there are shortcomings whether displayed individually or collectively and it can be easy for the collection and display to completely bypass any useful function as far as student learning and class atmosphere and in fact impede either or both - not to mention that students can get wrapped up in making the numbers look good while losing sight of the actual learning.... sort of like, I dunno, an emphasis on test scores (more data).

My first thought was that the real teachable moment here is to start collecting our own kind of data-- chart haircuts per month, length of toenails, number of spoonfuls of cereal at breakfast. Then we could all learn that data is just data, just as useful or useless as the means used to collect it. Then we could talk about what data does and doesn't tell us about the human beings in class. Then we could talk about why the current obsession with data is a bunch of hooey.

I became very ill in second grade as a result of the stress caused by a teacher who posted our SRA levels. I would NEVER post this type of data. I am sorry you had to go to all this work.

We have to post our data in my district, We don't, however, post student's names. My kids know their scores, but they are the only ones that do besides myself. We celebrate the growth trends we see, and analyze what we can do better if we don't see growth. It works for us!

I understand your point, but I have to point out that your scatter plot is not correct. Scatter plots are used to compare/correlate two variables, such as amount of time studying and scores on a test. Simply plotting students and test scores with a point is not a scatter plot.

When graphing qualitative data, bar graphs and circle/pie graphs are used. When graphing quantitative data, histograms are used, along with line graphs and scatter plots. Histograms are used to show frequency of data points. Line graphs are used to show data collected continuously over time. And scatter plots correlate two variables, as mentioned above.

Granted, I have taught for 17 years, I'm on 18. I didn't know this stuff until 2009 when I was writing my Master's paper... it turns out that where I teach, we actually teach this to our middle school science students. Go figure!

Walls should be reserved for creativity, not data.
There is enough competition in the world, so let's try to create a classroom that celebrates thinking, creativity, and teamwork...not competitive data.

While I appreciate the teacher's detailed attempt to meet education's current obsession with and demands for collecting and analyzing data, I personally find this depressing. Walls should be useful and interesting to students, and tied to the content they are studying-- not a reflection of "winners" and "losers."

I kind of feel like this is a violation of FERPA, unless the student's parent has explicitly signed off giving consent to do this. I agree with Anita as well. I am sick of data. Our kids are not numbers and numbers never tell the whole story of what is going on with a child.

I remain skeptical at best about today's obsession with data rather than children as students. From my experience, this trend has led to excessive time spent on numbers, less time for the individual student, and turning teachers into academic road mechanics.

I don't see any individual student names anywhere on those charts.

You don't need to. Even if the students don't know whose dot is whose (unlikely, but I'll pretend), do you think little Alice can't look up there and see that she is the worst student on the chart? How exactly do you think she'll feel about that?

Peter, you have made multiple negative comments on this blog. How about suggesting how teachers would meet the requirement to have data walls posted? This is not a choice on the part of the teacher -- it's a requirement. If you don't have a solution, you are part of the problem.

How do you track your reading logs! I would love to start there!

I realize that you put a lot of work into this, but I wouldn't want my child's information on a wall that everyone could see.

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