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Keeping on top of your kids’ grades online: boon or bane?

Another school year is right around the corner, and school districts and colleges across the country seek to improve communication between teachers/professors and parents/students.

A few days ago, one of my favorite edu-bloggers, Joanne Jacobs, linked to a two-year-old article in The Atlantic titled “I Will Not Check My Son’s Grades Online 5 Times a Day.”

At first thought, you might think having access to your kids’ grades via a point and click is one of the marvelous inventions in this Internet Age. And the vast majority of the time, it is.

But, alas, there’s always some … issues:

I like that parents can check grades and I encouraged them to do so. I feel that open communication between home and school is essential in educating children, and only sending midterm and final grades home makes grades seem like a big secret. With parent access on PowerSchool, there are no secrets. I am bothered, however, by parents who CONSTANTLY check … sometimes 5 or 6 times a day. These parents tend to be the ones who push their children the hardest and are the first to complain when grades aren’t entered on the DAY an assignment is due. As a language arts teacher with 60 papers to grade, I just can’t do that! I’m not sure parents realize the school can see how many times they access the portal. — Mindi Rench, mother of two and junior high literacy coach and education blogger

Indeed, if you’re a helicopter parent, improvements in grade reporting access will only serve to increase your “helicopterness.”

When my fellow educators and I first implemented online grading/access at our school, we thought it would be the panacea for teacher-parent communication.

I’m fairly technologically savvy, and I assisted in leading the way with online grade reporting in the early 2000s. Only a few teachers made use of the system (all were versed in the then-still nascent Internet and use of computers), and most of the parents of the students who had these teachers thought it was an invention on par with sliced bread.

Eventually, the district went with its own, uniform, system across all schools. Since my fellow teachers and I had gotten our principal to pay for the site license for our online reporting website several years up front, we had a year of overlap with our system and the district’s fledgling program. This actually led to some parental complaints about having to make use of two different systems. (I can see the hassle in spending an extra second or two to point and click a few extra times. Sigh.)

As grade reporting tech improves year after year, teachers may find that the demands will increase on how they communicate grades and assignments.

Mom, I did SO count to ten! See, I got an “A” — it says so right there!

For example, I used to routinely upload assignments to our school’s webpage, noting when they were assigned and when they were due. But I would still get emails and phone calls about students’ missed work, with questions about how to find out about assignments. Many simply did not know how to navigate the school webpage. But some upped the ante and asked why I couldn’t email them when something was assigned, instead of them having to check a website for that information.

Thankfully, our grade reporting system soon acquired a mass email function. However, parents have to register (online) to get school-related emails. If they don’t, they’re in the dark.

With this addition, I simply emailed what I used to put on the school webpage, attaching a copy of any assignment in case a kid lost or forgot it. I updated student grades online as quickly I as was able to grade student assignments, tests and/or quizzes.

Regarding that last sentence, note to parents: Although you might view teachers as super-humans (thank you!), keep in mind they actually need a bit of time to grade assignments/tests/quizzes before they put the results online.

I never really encountered much student stress about online grade access. Occasionally I might have a student approach me inquiring about a grade, or point out an error I had made in inputting a score. Other than that, they’re in the loop about their grades via their smartphones, and take it all in stride.

In my own daughter’s case, I think I checked her grades online once when she was in high school, and that was just to see how the system looked from a parent’s perspective. This is because my situation was similar to that of article author Jessica Lahey:

I choose to trust in the power of open communication and my son’s emerging sense of responsibility and character. When I handed him the [online access] envelope, and asked him to keep me in the loop, he thanked me and returned to his room to do his homework. He has four years of high school ahead of him, and only time will tell if my faith in him is warranted. Until then, I plan to keep my hands out of what should be his business, his responsibility, and his life.

Thankfully, my faith in my daughter was warranted. We routinely discussed school, her teachers, the subject matter … and sure, it helped that I was in the education field. But the fact that we took the time to have regular chats, especially in this rapid, instant information age, was invaluable.

Isn’t this what folks used to do before the Internet?

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 18 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.