16 November 2009

The curious ethics of posting student grades

A public high school teacher in Northfield, Minnesota, has been admonished for posting the names and scores of the students who did best on an examination...

Turns out it was against the law, according to state officials.

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...

According to experts in education law, it's generally OK for schools to announce who makes the honor roll or graduates with the highest class rank. But revealing a student's grade on a class test in math or history -- without written permission -- is a no-no...

Naming top test-takers puts undue pressure on them and doesn't build team spirit in class, she argued.

Now let me put on my "old guy" hat and prop my feet up and tell you how it was in the old days. In math class in the 1950s we were given a mimeographed page with 100 addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division problems (simple ones: 8x4, 9x3...) and had I think 3 minutes to do them all. Then you passed the page to the left for a classmate to grade. Then the scores were posted on the bulletin board. Not the best scores, mind you, as in the case above. All the scores. With names. Scores over 90 were in blue, those below maybe 75 were in red. The tests were repeated over and over and over again, and everyone's results were there for everyone to see.

In the 1950s the concept of "team spirit" in the math classroom had not been invented yet. But people sure did learn their basic math.

There's more discussion and explanation of this case at the Star Tribune.

Addendum: Just found a multiplication test (to 12s) on the 'net.

You are given five minutes to complete the table. I found myself slowed down by not being able to touch-type numbers.


  1. At Uni, I've had some teachers put up all the scores - but with student numbers instead, so it is essentially anonymous unless you knew your friend's student number.

    Mind you, I lost my anonymity once when the teacher realised that my score wasn't there because he scrolled too far down. He scrolled up, my score was there, and he asked me whether it was there, and the whole class was listening to the exchange.

    That aside, I think it's a pretty good system - you can see all the marks, knowing approximately what the range is, without anybody getting embarrassed about a score that was too high or too low.

  2. In that chart, if you know any math at all, you'll see that all of the answers were right in front of you.

    Even my kids, who grew up in the late sixties and early seventies, had their tests posted on the wall for all to see. In those days, the folks with the high scores were rewarded and the ones below them were motivated. But then, nobody was looking out for our little ids and egos.

  3. Dodger, just to clarify re that chart, if you go to the link, it starts out blank. I took a screencap of the chart AFTER I had done the timed test.


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