Naming top test-takers: is it a helpful educational practice?

ipad-letter-sshotDept-admin-sshotNorthfield is on the front page of the Strib again today: Teachers broke law by posting top test scores. "In an advisory opinion, the Minnesota Department of Administration agreed with a parent who complained that posting her son’s test results in class for all to see was a violation of state law protecting student data."

I was informed about this situation earlier this year when the parent, Kathie Galotti, brought it to my attention, asking for my opinion about the situation.  I contacted her this morning when I saw the story and got her permission to post PDF’s of her letter to the Dept. and the subsequent ruling. I think there are still issues to discuss since the practice is evidently still continuing, albeit with parental permission of individual students.

40 comments to  (Including 8 Discussion Threads) Naming top test-takers: is it a helpful educational practice?

  • 1
    Rob Hardy says:

    I completely agree.  It’s a violation of data privacy, and it’s questionable educational practice.  The scores could be posted without names attached, but even then, I think it is the wrong sort of motivation.  Instead of encouraging generalized competition, the teacher would do better to identify in each student what he or she needs to do to succeed, and to work on those specific areas that need improvement.  I really dislike the notion, which unfortunately President Obama reinforces by calling his education initiative “Race to the Top,” that education is about competition.  It should be more about inquiry, exploration, and individual growth.  It should even be about cooperation.  Winning isn’t everything.

  • 2
    Jane Moline says:

    I agree.  And when a high-school football player makes a touchdown, we should only identify him by his jersey number because it is an invasion of privacy to use his name.  Oh, and you shouldn’t tell anybody but the recipients who recieve scholarships, because it is an invasion of privacy and we really shouldn’t be putting their pictures in the paper, either. 

    Unfortunately, Rob, for students to be successful today they must compete--even if it is with themselves--in order to go on to college and beyond.  

    I don’t think grades should be used to humiliate students--but recognizing hard work and success by our high schoolers should not be taboo.

  • 3
    Rob Hardy says:

    I bet I can beat Jane at being sarcastic.

    Seriously, I think kids are competitive enough on their own.  Why work that innate competitiveness to a fever pitch, instead of actually teaching them how to cooperate, and fostering in them the more mature and sustainable skills of critical thinking and appreciation?  It seems to me that identifying a student by a grade, reducing a student to a number or a letter, is in fact more like merely identifying a player by his or her jersey number.

    On Sunday afternoon, I saw Kathie G’s son in Fiddler on the Roof.  He was brilliant.  He was a star, a stand-out, but he was also part of an ensemble that worked beautifully together.  My son is also a musician and a singer, but instead of saying, “I could do that better,” he thoroughly enjoyed and enthusiastically cheered the extraordinary talents of one of his peers.  I do want to see my son striving to be his best, but in a supportive and enriching community of many talents, not as a self-centered grade-grubber.

  • 4
    Curt Benson says:

    Rob, there are many non sports related competitions in the schools.   What is your opinion of them?  examples:  Chess Team,  Math Team, Science Olympiad, Music Listening Team,   Speech,  Knowledge Bowl, Spelling and Geography Bees.

    And, isn’t it presumptuous to think that a student who enjoys being recognized for doing well on a test is a  ”self-centered grade-grubber”?

  • 5
    Rob Hardy says:

    This topic provided a lively dinner table conversation at our house tonight.  My 15-year old son was inclined to agree with me, but my 18-year old son is in total agreement with Jane and Curt.  He says, from the perspective of someone currently in the trenches, that competition is a reality of life, and the basis for success, and you have to learn to deal with it.  So bring it on.  I countered by reminding him that my class rank was significantly higher than his, and my cumulative unweighted GPA of 3.98 blows his out of the water, so therefore I must be right.

    Back to the question: Is it a helpful educational practice?  Instead of posting a grade, it would be more helpful (at least on an essay test) to distribute copies of the best paper and use it to illustrate the criteria by which it was judged the best.  Assessments are more effective when they provide feedback and support the learning process, instead of simply being used for ranking and, in this case, encouraging competition.

    All those competitions which you mention, Curt, are great for the students who have chosen to participate in them.  I have no problem with them.  I just have a problem with making a making competition for grades the focus of the learning process.

    Yes, it probably was presumptuous.

  • 6
    Patrick Enders says:

    Rob, you wrote:

    Instead of posting a grade, it would be more helpful (at least on an essay test) to distribute copies of the best paper and use it to illustrate the criteria by which it was judged the best.  Assessments are more effective when they provide feedback and support the learning process, instead of simply being used for ranking and, in this case, encouraging competition.

    I agree completely.  However, this ruling would seem to make such public feedback a rather difficult process as well.  Is permission now required before discussion of such an assignment?  Whose permission -- the student’s, the parents’, or both?  Is it enough to block out the name of the author of the exemplary assignment up for discussion?  What if the identity is inherent in the work?

    For kids, especially at the upper grade levels, it would seem to be important to get student permission before having such a discussion, and this is easy enough to do in the classroom setting.  However, parental permission on a per-case basis would seem to be a significant impediment to timely discussion.

    Perhaps it would simply be best to have a preexisting permission form that parents can sign in order to ‘opt in’ to allowing their children’s assignments to be publicly discussed as examples of exemplary work?

  • 7

    I’m going to jump in here and support Rob’s position.  The things Jane and Curt are mentioning are designed as competitions, and, while setting up tiers of grades might encourage competitiveness in its very design, it need not be used that way by the classroom teacher.

    I was a top student, pretty much always at the top of any particular list in my high school.  However, all of my teachers who posted exam scores or course grades for the class’s consumption made the lists anonymous.  My grades or scores were never once posted with my name attached.  (In practice, it was not hard to figure out who had received each grade when they were posted because kids talk.)  I was proud to do well, but also stressed.  It added pressure to my already high expectations for my performance.

    When I came to Carleton as a frosh -- and once I recovered from the serious adjustment to being an average student in that environment -- I remember the relief of being able to focus on what I was learning and not just the grade.

    Curt, I read Rob’s comment as expressing the fear that too much competitiveness in terms of grading might encourage his son to become a “self-centered grade grubber,” not that all top students were such.  I never once grubbed for any of my grades, and I can’t say that I recall any of my friends who got high marks ever whining to the teacher for them.

  • 8
    Griff Wigley says:

    Bob Collins at MPR featured this blog post/discussion today, #2 in his Five at 8 blog post.

  • 9

    Here’s another question in this debate that concerns me:  To what extent are the grades public?

    The school district and the state acknowledge the ambiguity that assignment or exam grades may or may not be private educational data under FERPA and the related Minnesota statutes.  My concern is this: If they are not private, how public are they?

    Could a school make the determination that anyone could have access to test scores?  I know that seems like a silly question, but it has me curious.

    Also, if competition is to be valued, is the classroom any less competitive if the scores are still posted but anonymous?  What good does naming the recipients of each grade do over and above a general, anonymous posting of all scores on a particular test?  Especially considering, as I mentioned above, students would fairly easily figure out who scored what, but the school steers clear of the murky waters of possible privacy violations.

    Then the class can look and see … “oh, three people scored above 95, two got a score of 91, etc…”

  • 10
    Kathleen Vondrasek says:

    The examples cited (football, chess team, etc.) are all extracurricular activities and are not part of a student’s core education. By choosing to participate in those types of activities, one chooses to be placed in a competitive environment and all that comes with it.

    The fact is this teacher violated data privacy laws (“…according to Dr. Richardson, the District nevertheless believes that it violated state and federal law when it posted the test score without consent”). While we may not always agree with the laws of this great country of ours, we need to comply with them or take appropriate legal action to get them changed; not just unilaterally ignore them. From what I can see, this teacher knowingly violated the rights of his students.

    As a parent of two NPS students, it is disappointing and disheartening to see that Kathie had to go to such great lengths to get the attention of the District administration on this matter. I can only hope that going forward such flagrant violations will not be tolerated.

    By the way, where is Dr. Richardson’s letter to the parents addressing this latest faux pas?

  • 11
    Felicity Enders says:

    As a teacher at the graduate school level, I would never do this.  I do think it violates privacy laws and the teacher-student contract.

    Two additional points:

    1.  In a survey I read a couple of years ago (sorry, can’t recall where), top businesses were asked what they needed from college graduates that they weren’t getting.  The answer wasn’t competitiveness, it was the ability to work in a team.  That’s something our educational system did almost none of 10 years ago and remains light on, yet vast areas of our research and business communities depend on successful collaborative work because things are so complex that multidisciplinary teams are required to fulfill all needs.  This practice would seem to go counter to that need.

    2.  At any level below college (and maybe even there) I think we continue to face the problem that being smart may expose kids to risks from their fellow students.  Why not just stick a paper on the top kid’s back saying “I beat you on the test.  Why not beat me up now to make up for it?”

    I’m glad the parent involved has addressed the issue.  Hopefully the school will react appropriately.

    • 11.1

      Thank you, Felicity.  Concerning your point #1, I’m not sure students, or most adults for that matter, need any more help in learning how to be competitive.  Most people do need sustained education in how to work well in groups, however.  Businesses spend untold millions on in-house training and consulting to try to create “synergistic” working teams, collaborative goal-seeking groups and the like. (Maybe billions, given how expensive consultants generally are.)

      The kids who score poorly on a test know that others scored higher, why does posting those scores with the names attached provide any more motivation for them?  Again, if the argument is that students need to see those high scores, write them down, post them, but keep them anonymous.

      By the way, I fully believe that this teacher, and any other teachers who might do this, are doing so with positive intentions, even though I think it is unnecessary and a violation of privacy.

    • 11.2
      Rob Hardy says:

      Here’s an interesting page from Carleton on cooperative learning.  Salient points: (1) cooperative learning leads to higher achievement and greater retention of learning, and (2) “the most successful individuals in business, research, and school are the least competitive.”

  • 12
    William Siemers says:

    This is way off topic but interesting,
    http://www.theweek.com/article/index/96989/Bursting_the_Higher_Ed_Bubble 

    As far as the posting of test scores, I suppose it is a violation of privacy, and I seriously doubt if such a posting does anything to motivate the already motivated, but probably does serve to add anxiety to the lives of some average students.

    At the U during the sixties, profs would routinely post test grades outside their offices, not as a motivational device but just to keep the students out of their offices.  That worked for me since I was only interested in my grade and generally didn’t know the other kids anyway.

  • 13
    David Henson says:

    I agree with Patrick, William, Rob, Felicity and Brendon (who would have thunk). Learning should be a never ending (and mostly open ended) quest and over emphasising grades may give students the wrong ideas about the purpose of learning.

  • 14
    Bob Gilbertson says:

    I’m surprised that people feel so confident that this particular motivational approach can never be useful.  I would certainly respect an educator’s decision not to post the names of students who got As and Bs on a test, but I don’t accept that it can never be a good idea.  What I respectfully suggest may be missing from the comments so far are two things:  (1) the context of this classroom (i.e. the other things that this particular teacher did, the way he ran his class, the way he interacted with the kids, and the role that this particular motivational tool played in that context), and (2) the value for kids of having a variety of different kinds of teachers and motivators.  If one teacher emphasizes certain benchmarks (e.g. As and Bs on a test) more than others, and if another teacher takes a more cooperative approach (if that’s the right terminology), I’m fine with that.

    I’m befuddled that anyone would feel bad about being listed as having received an A or a B on a test, but it’s been a while since I’ve been in school and maybe the dynamic now is different than the one I knew.

    • 14.1
      Patrick Enders says:

      Bob,

      Like you, I am not categorically opposed to teachers citing those who have done particularly well in their work.  Indeed, I’m concerned about how this ruling may be applied in the future, and that it may stifle valuable feedback.

      Given state law, this teacher is no longer allowed to post actual grades.  That seems to now be settled, and I’m doubtful that public display of the actual grades is either a good idea, or of much help as a motivator.  However, the same thing could (I hope) be accomplished by keeping a list of those who exceeded a particular standard.  The incentive is still there, but the protected private data (the actual grade) is no longer being revealed.  Such a list could be looked at like a one-class Honor Roll, and those haven’t been outlawed yet(?).

      I agree that one of the strengths of having multiple teachers at the HS level is that different children are inspired  by different motivational systems.  Some of my favorite teachers have been hated by others, and I did not do well with some popular/well-regarded teachers.  I would hope that different teachers would use different motivational techniques, so that every student might have some teachers who play to their strengths.

      As I understand it from the local rumor mill, the class in question was a particularly challenging and optional course.  If it was indeed used to humiliate those who did poorly, then it is a good thing that the process was stopped.  However, I find it hard to believe that the Nfld HS is a setting where students are likely to be treated, as my wife Felicity says, as if they had

      “a paper on the top kid’s back saying “I beat you on the test.  Why not beat me up now to make up for it?””

      If that is the case, then the school has much bigger problems than those presented by this teacher.

    • 14.2

      Bob and Patrick,

      I feel like both of you have ignored the very easy solution of posting the scores without names attributed to them.  I’ve mentioned this twice (thrice?) in this thread, and I have no sense that putting names with the scores is any more motivating than simply posting the scores anonymously.

      What added motivation is there in posting the names?  Especially considering the reality that many kids share their grades with friends and classmates -- to some extent -- then those scores tend to spread around the class via the standard lines of teenage communication:  “Well, Bob got the 94, and Patrick got 91, and Brendon got 89, but I don’t know who got the 99.”  “Oh, that was Griff.”  “Seriously?  Griff?”  “Yeah, he must have cheated.” “Totally.”

      The teacher still gets to post the grades, the students still get to see what the scores were, and, consequently, where they ranked on that particular exam, but there can be no claim of the teacher violating privacy.  The students might talk all they want about who scored what, but the teacher and school can wash their hands of any possible privacy breach.

      Yes, Bob, we do not know the context or how the class operated overall, and those are important considerations.  But I would bet the student and parent who objected did, and they are the ones who objected even though they knew this context.  Obviously, this was not a comfortable approach for them, and they are the case at hand.

  • 15
    Jane Moline says:

    Recognizing success should not be taboo.  Dealing well with being successful is a great lesson to learn in life.

  • 16

    Jane, should the kids who get D’s and F’s on the test also have their names put on the board?  Dealing well with failure is a great lesson in life.

  • 17
    Curt Benson says:

    At least two students from the class in question posted comments to the strib story that Griff linked to:

    Disapointed in my classmates parent

    I was a student in the class in which this happened. I was very disappointed to see the list go. What my teacher called “Steel Trap Minds” was a motivational system that EVERYONE agreed to. My whole class was shocked to hear that someones parent had reported it. No one should view this as a violation of rights, especially when all the students AGREED to the system at the beginning of the year. Sorry to the teacher, and the parent that reported it should be ashamed!!!

    A Student’s View

    I am a student of the teacher in question and am deeply offended and angry that someone would take the time and the effort to incriminate them for such a small thing. Whether or not you believe the idea of posting the names and grades of the highest scoring students on a white board is beneficial is irrelevant. The real debate should be about the parent who went out of their way not to talk to the teacher, but to go behind the teacher’s back and try and incriminate them. This kind of secretive and determined criticism makes me sick. If the parent had felt that this was so bad, why not speak to the teacher them self. I am sure the teacher would have understood and taken the students grade and name down. It seems to me that up until this parent’s complaint no one else had been annoyed by this system, and so the teacher would not have known about the problematic nature of posting the grades. Like I said, I am a student of this teacher and know them. They are definitely one of the best teachers in the school, and if anyone has anymore complaints about them, they should have the guts to complain to the teacher’s face so that they both know what the problem is.

    • 17.1
      Patrick Enders says:

      Curt, thanks for posting those.  It’s very nice to have the perspective of actual students in the class, rather than just the opinions of self-styled academics like myself.

    • 17.2
      Felicity Enders says:

      I think that the fact that the students agreed to this at the beginning of the year negates any negative connotations.  Even if someone didn’t like it, they could have spoken to the teacher privately and asked that their grade not be posted.  This puts a very different light on the matter.

  • 18
    Rob Hardy says:

    My son is currently in this class, and at the beginning of the year we received a letter from the teacher, and a permission slip to sign if we wished our child to participate in the system of having high grades recognized.  This seems proper to me.  I think the parent should have communicated with the teacher, and the teacher should have communicated with parents initially.  Proper communication can forestall misunderstandings and ill-feelings.

    I do think that the teacher in question is a good teacher, and well-intentioned.  I’ve always found the teacher very pleasant and receptive to communication with parents.  My older son, who took the class, ended up with a very respectable grade on the AP test, but what pleased me the most was that he came home (as his younger brother is doing now) and started dinner table conversations about the material.  The evidence of real engagement with and enthusiasm for the material pleases me more than grades do.  I do think the teacher is fostering both engagement and enthusiasm, while keeping an eye on the gradebook’s bottom line.

    Recognition of success is, of course, a good thing.  Students need to realize, though, that success on a rather formulaic standardized test doesn’t necessarily translate into success in life.  Nor does simple competitiveness. Students should be groomed to succeed, but they should also be prepared psychologically for failure, or at least for impediments to success.  Praise doesn’t always come as easily as it might to a smart student in an AP class at Northfield High School.

  • 19

    Curt,

    I wonder if individual students had the option to opt out of this system.  I wonder how they voted to take part.  I don’t think privacy rights can be taken away by majority vote in a classroom.  I doubt most tenth graders are going to stand up to a plan that a teacher makes, and say, “No, I don’t want to take part in that.”  This would be especially difficult if many classmates seem to be agreeing with the wisdom of it.  Group think is particularly tough to overcome as an adolescent.

    (Now, if the teacher had individual students sign an agreement to allow their grades to be posted publicly, and the students could opt out by not signing, then that’s another matter.  I would consider that case differently.)

    I know the teacher involved in this case.  He is a great teacher, and I want to make it perfectly clear that I’m not questioning his ability.  He taught my son and daughter and was great.  I’m not even questioning his intentions about posting the grades -- his intentions have always seemed to be about doing his absolute best for his students -- but I definitely can and do sympathize with the desire to keep one’s grades private.

  • 20
    Curt Benson says:

    Brendon, it would be helpful if Kathi responded to to some of these comments.  But I know, with a child involved in the situation, that can be tricky.

    Also, Kathi--although I disagree with you on this issue, I applaud you for standing up for what you believe.   I’ve had a spotty record with bringing issues up to school administrators.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve been taken seriously.  Other times--not so much.

    • 20.1

      I agree, Curt.

      I’m definitely thinking about this issue on principle, not as someone who is actively involved in it.

      I’m relating it to the amount of privacy I was afforded in high school where scores were always anonymous if posted, and I remember there being times and classes where it didn’t matter to me, but other times where it really did.  I appreciated always being able to be the one who decided whether or not my grade was “released” to my classmates.

  • 21
    Jane Moline says:

    Brendon:
    Regarding your SARCASTIC comment that posting bad grades would be a great lesson in life --I specifically stated that using grades to shame or embarrass is not good—but claiming that teachers cannot recognize success is a bit overboard on the privacy scale.  Just because it is a law does not make it a good law. 

    All of the students in AP classes had to qualify to be there--the teachers should be dealing with the best students in the school.  I think they need to use their judgement in motivating and rewarding these students who are working very hard at learning--and I think the law is a little like the zero tolerance policy for knives--(where the high school student/part-time stock boy had his case cutter in his truck when he parked and went in to school. ) 

    We all need to have some flexibility and be able to use judgement.  When we take all the judgement out of the equation, we end up with decisions that a computer could easily make.--no need for a school board, administrators or teachers.

    • 21.1

      No, Jane,  I was merely echoing your sentiments that dealing with success is a great lesson in life.  It’s a common rhetorical tactic used to point out that there is a distinct flip side to an argument.  Also, I honestly believe that dealing with failure is a great lesson in life.  My contention would be that having your grades posted is not necessarily the best way to exercise that on either the positive or negative side.

      Also, I have not, and I don’t think anyone here has claimed that “teachers cannot recognize success” (your words) -- I think you’re extrapolating too far on some of the philosophical points made in this thread.  Do you honestly think there’s no other way for teachers and schools to recognize exemplary performance?  They have scholarships, honor rolls, AP classes themselves, academic ranking, some schools have academic lettering as in sports, some have student of the month / week / whatever.

      As for flexibility and judgment, clearly the teacher used his judgment and the parent disagreed because of her own judgment.  The school exercised the flexibility to ask the teacher to stop the practice. They did not have to, but they did.  The state weighed in, as well, on the side of the parent’s interpretation of data privacy as it related to this specific question.  They issued a non-binding opinion.  I’m seeing different judgments and flexible interpretations used throughout this process; hardly an analogous situation to the, at times, ridiculously draconian zero-tolerance weapon policy.

      Again, what added advantage is gained by posting the names of the students along with the score that would not be realized with anonymous posting of the same scores?  Kids still see where they fall, and if they want to tell their classmates about their test score, they certainly can at their own discretion.

  • 22
    Felicity Enders says:

    Jane -- if a teacher posts the names of students who got A or B, then everyone knows who got the lower grades, too.  You can’t separate the two.

    Brendan -- I completely agree that posting grades without names is a great solution.  My personal preference is to post how many were in each range (ie 4 in the 90-100 range, 8 in the 80-89 range, 6 in the 70-79 range, 5 below 70).  That lets people know where they stand relative to the class but removes the competitive aspect of who did best/worst -- they don’t have enough information to tell unless they ask everyone else in the class exactly how they did.

  • 23
    Jane Moline says:

    I think the students comments on the Strib site speak pretty well for how the students felt.

    Brendon:  It may be a great lesson in life to learn from failure, but I do not think bad grades are any where near the best way to teach it.  And rewarding good grades is not equal, in any way, to shame and humiliation for bad grades. 

    Yes, the other students know that they did not get the higher grades, Felicity--they are all quite capable of making that extrapolation from the data.  What we seem to be saying with these rules is mixed--if you are really smart and get good grades, we better keep that under wraps so …. other students won’t ridicule you for being an egghead?  And if you get bad grades, we’ll keep that a secret so that you won’t have your feelings hurt. 

    I just think this is a very strict rule by invoking privacy for the periodic test scores but then saying it doesn’t apply for honor roll or scholarship awards or academic lettering.

    I really think our privacy laws are screwed up.  The doctor and insurance company and the school all want your social security number in their records so someone can find out everything about your kids by just a few mouse clicks--but teachers are violating a students privacy rights by recognizing good grades in class.

    Soon, classes with have to be “two baggers.”  (Griff-that is sarcastic-but it is short.)

    • 23.1
      Jane Moline says:

      I meant  ”..classes will have… ” sorry

    • 23.2

      Jane,

      The issue may be that you see the teacher posting the top grades with the names attached as “rewarding good grades…”  It may be rewarding for some, but for others it may feel as onerous as if a bad grade of theirs had been similarly posted.  While you see a mixed message, I see a consistency whereby the student has control of the public release of an individual test score, whether that score was high or low.

      The Strib student comments are fine, but, as I pointed out above, I think “everyone” agreeing to use the system at the beginning of a school year is a very inexact marker for how individual students in the class may have actually felt had they the chance to privately opt in or out of the system.  Group think among your classmates and the practices of a very good and popular teacher are difficult to battle when you’re 15.

      As Rob mentioned, it seems that now the teacher asks for permission privately at the beginning of the school year.  That seems like a very good solution that allows for student control over data and gives the teacher the ability to keep doing something that, obviously, some -- maybe even most -- of his students appreciate.  Again, this shows flexibility, not rigidity.

      I agree that many aspects of our privacy laws are messed up, but that has seen recent legislative progress -- medical records, credit card companies, and many other businesses now detail their data privacy practices, and many have you sign-off on them.  Sites like Google and Facebook have buckled to enormous pressure both domestic and foreign to not retain detailed records about users’ online activities to the same extent or for as long a period of time.

  • 24
    Bob Gilbertson says:

    I have enjoyed reading this exchange.  What I like best about it is Felicity Enders’ comment 17.2 above.  I always like it when people have an open mind and are able to adjust their view based on additional information.  Those students’ comments about the Strib article were a very powerful testament to the importance of seeing the act in question as part of a larger context in that classroom.  Ms. Enders certainly appeared to be on the negative/skeptical side about this at the start of this discussion, but then took sensible account of the students’ comments.  Sounds like she’d definitely do things differently in her own classroom, but that’s cool too.

    I am especially interested now to know whether the second student commentor was correct in her/his statement that the parent didn’t first talk with the teacher.  I have to believe that the parent did, and that the student commentor just didn’t know that.  If there was no interaction between the parent and the teacher before this blowing up into what became a statewide story, that is a real shame.

  • 25
    Kathie Galotti says:

    Hi all and thanks for your comments, reactions, and even criticisms.  I haven’t been avoiding this thread as much as, the story breaking in the Strib last Monday caught me completely off-guard, and I was trying to get my thoughts together on it WHILE my fall term classes were coming to an end AND I had to go to Boston for a conference Wed-Sun.  So that’s the reason for my silence.

     

    I’d like to make a couple of points in reaction to all that has been said.

    1.     Whether or not anyone thinks the posting of a grade is a good or bad idea, it is clear that it is illegal.  And has been, since the federal law known as the FERPA was passed in 1974.  

     

    2.     When I originally brought this matter to the attention of school officials (namely,  Joel Leer, principal of the high school; Chris Richardson, the superintendant, neither of them disputed, for a second, that this teacher’s practice was illegal.    Similarly, in a face-to-face meeting with a school board member, and a phone conversation with another school board member, both SPONTANEOUSLY labeled these actions as illegal before I could point it out.

     

     

    3.     I tried, repeatedly, to handle this privately and quietly with the above personnel.  My ex also went to have a separate face-to -face with Joel Leer.   (I had told my ex that I had the feeling that Leer pretty much ignored my concerns, so my ex, a school administrator in Forest Lake, volunteered to take a shot.  We both hoped that his job would provide more credibility).  We were each assured this illegal practice would stop immediately (in late October of last year).  It didn’t.  When I wrote angry emails to Mr. Leer and Dr. Richardson in DECEMBER , after the practice had happened twice more, the supe replied something to the effect that he was happy with the way Joel was handling the situation (Joel DID eventually get the teacher to stop for the rest of the year).  However, the supe did include the following in his email to me: “My expectation is that we follow FERPA statutes and when someone in our district doesn’t, we correct the situation immediately.”  (emphasis mine).  This led me to the interpretation that he was willing to have this practice occur with other teachers or in other buildings—that every teacher would get a chance to do it if they felt like it.  I felt, and feel, that they weren’t doing enough to put an end to the practice once and for all.

     

    4.     My complaint to FERPA and to IPAD do not mention the teacher by name.  Although I think the teacher ought to have known this practice was illegal, I am even more sure that the school district DID IN FACT know (after our first complaints, in October).  They, specifically Joel Leer and Chris Richardson, are more to blame, for not putting an immediate stop to the practice and for not making sure all teachers were educated in data privacy legal issues.  They were the only ones named in my letter, as you can see from Griff’s posting.  So, the teacher has NOT been “incriminated,” contrary to what’s been implied.

     

     

    5.     Posting the name and grade of EVERY student who makes an A or a B does, by necessity, also indicate that kids who are NOT on the list got a C or worse.  In my mind, this is a form of shaming and humiliation.  And this seemed to be part of the strategy.  

     

     

     

    6.     Some kids love the public praise.  Some don’t.  I was a straight A student in high school—graduated 3rd in a class of 400 in fact, at a school quite similar to Northfield High.  I would have been mortified had my grades been published for all to see.  And, like Brendon, I would have felt a LOT more stress on every exam than I already did.  (And in those days I stressed myself out a lot).

     

    7.     Education and athletic competition are two completely different venues.  Or should be, in my mind.  Education should have a focus of learning and refining skills.  Education does not (or should not) have inter-student competition as its core.  Athletic competitions, by definition, do.  Education is a mandatory setting; team sports are something one signs up for.

     

     

    8.     My initial complaint (as well as my ex’s) took place in a larger context, and here I am going to protect my son’s privacy a bit and be sketchy.  Suffice it to say, there was a significant amount of stress going on—resulting both from personal issues as well as school issues.  It had already gotten to the point where I was getting frequent phone calls from the school nurse expressing concerns, and there was a hurried ER run  from the school one day, as well as some other bigger stuff I’m going to leave vague.  Some (not all, but a significant amount) of that stress was caused by, for lack of a better term, crappy behavior by multiple teachers at NHS.  I tried to have the guidance counselor give teachers a global “heads up”  (this practice is routine at Carleton where I work) about the stress, and she (very kindly) complied.   The specific teacher in question called my son out privately to a) disclose my (confidential) call to the guidance counselor and b) basically ask if I was making it up or not.  I took (and take) offense at this and that is why I chose not to talk to the teacher. 

     

    9.     I have blogged about this before, but it bears repeating.  There are a lot of good, caring teachers at NHS.  There are a handful (unfortunately, a large handful), of teachers both at NHS and at NMS who treat at least some kids like crap.  They put their own needs way ahead of the kids’ needs regularly; they humiliate kids publically, they refuse to provide assistance when asked, they set up dangerous laboratories; they make arbitrary “policies” that penalize kids for small infractions extraordinarily harshly and disproportionately.    I can give details on each of these if anyone is interested.  I’m sick to death of the fact that this small minority of teachers can treat kids like crap (with effects that are probably much more harmful and long-lasting than they even realize, mostly because they so rarely think about the kids’ needs) and having administrators who only have loyalty to teachers, and very little to kids.   NO, I’m not talking about all teachers.  Or most teachers.  But when we let the very same teachers, year after year, treat at least some kids with very little respect and don’t do anything about it, we parents are part of the problem. 

     

    10. I went to IPAD to file a complaint because I didn’t want to sue (as the State Dept of Education official with whom I spoke suggested I do), I’d exhausted every channel in town, and I wanted to effect some change.  The IPAD opinion has some binding on the school district (if they now violate it, they can be held more legally culpable, if I understand my conversations with relevant officials correctly).  I DID NOT draw public attention to the IPAD web site (the opinion was issued in late June. although I knew it was a public web site.  I wanted this hanging over Dr. Richardson’s head to get the practice to stop, but I didn’t milk this thing for all the publicity I could get.  I knew that a reporter COULD find it and make it more public, but I gambled it wouldn’t happen.  I was as surprised as anyone when the Strib ran the story last Monday.  Griff knew about this matter as I had sought his advice when I agonized last April about filing a complaint--when he asked for permission to post stuff, I felt I needed to take responsibility for my actions and agreed.  

     

     

    11. I am shocked that Dr. Kyte, (who chose not to mention in the Strib story that he was a former superintendant in Northfield) does not understand the implications of FERPA law.   Most of the players in this drama do and did, from first hearing.  And the IPAD opinion is pretty clear-cut.

     

    12. Kids (and parents) have some legal rights.  Even if we aren’t unionized.  The fact that some or even most parents are willing to cede those rights doesn’t mean that the rights can be ignored for the remaining few or one.  I choose to protect my kid’s data privacy rights, and you can ridicule me til the cows come home, that’s still going to be my choice.

  • 26
    Griff Wigley says:

    Kathie, thanks for the thorough background on the issue. Is it working out better this fall, as far as you know?

  • 27
    David Henson says:

    I would think once the need for “permission slips” arises that a reasonable person might think this is too much effort to support a grade posting process of at best -- limited utility, and at worst -- harmful to some. I can’t see ‘everyone agreeing’ as the Strib student claims without an environment where the authority (teacher) clearly supports the process in a way that would make opposition uncomfortable. The statement of two students (very possibly A students) does not define how “the students” felt.

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