Student Grade Privacy

An interesting bill in California is set to “explicitly prohibit public schools in California from issuing ID cards and other items that reflect students’ classroom performance.

I certainly get where they’re coming from, and I very much agree that doing this sort of thing on a year-long basis is a bad idea. High school is an incredibly fast-changing environment, and pigeonholing someone for a year is unlikely to be productive. In public schools, there are also privacy laws to consider – student grades are normally only given to students and their legal guardians. Color-coding people by GPA violates the spirit of such laws.

I do have an interesting example to share regarding this. When I worked at Hyde, we made student effort grades public. Everyone was rated at Honors, Transitions, or Warnings several times per year. A big list of who got what status in what class was posted near the front desk. Study hall status was based on these ratings, and those lists were posted in most dorm hallways to assist duty faculty. Anyone who cared to look could tell how you were doing. I could be wrong, but I also remember a big chart of everyone’s achievement grade (the usual percentage rating) being publicly visible on occasion.

Naturally, students looked not only at their own ratings, but at their friends’ as well. Let me tell you, this was generally not hidden information. As a teacher, when I hand back a test, I mentally schedule 3-4 minutes for students to show each other what they got and talk about their scores, because that’s what happens. Many teenagers love to compare themselves to others, and it’s very rare for someone to refuse to show others what they got (though some folks will quietly hide the paper and just shake their heads in shame).

I’m not sure that making the standings public put any extra pressure on the students by itself. I rarely saw students calling each other out about their poor performance, even at a school that encouraged calling out. It did encourage us teachers to spend a minute or two looking through for our students. It was a good way to start conversations like, “Hey, I saw you have Honors in every class but mine, where you have Warnings. What gives?” or “You have Warnings in every class but English. What are you doing in that class that you could bring to your other classes?” It also made it harder for students to lie about their scores – they were there for all to see. You had to face the fact that half your teachers were telling you that you could do better.

So, in short: year-long “failure” tag? Bad idea. Short-term “knucklehead” tag? Potentially a good way to start a conversation. Obviously it’s something that requires support from the surrounding school culture.


About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on January 30, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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