Got a D? Cut a class? Mom knows

More schools now let parents go online to track their children’s grades, attendance and homework completion, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In the past five years, the number of schools using such systems has more than tripled, to an estimated 25% to 35% of U.S. public schools, says Rich Bagin, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association in Rockville, Md. Parent use is likely to expand faster in coming years, as more take advantage of the systems’ mobile apps, Mr. Bagin says.

Some parents complain it’s too much information, while others love it.

John Patriarche, a construction consultant, tracks his 13-year-old daughter’s school performance.

Using the online data, “you can get ahead of it and help your child so they can turn it around before the final,” Mr. Patriarche says.

These days, schools are adopting “integrated über-systems that link class materials and assignments, gradebooks, discussion boards and blogs, attendance records, and school calendars.” Often “parents can request immediate texts or emails if their child is tardy or absent or receives a low grade.”

In a recent online poll of 115 parents by SheKnows, a website on parenting and lifestyle issues, 32% said online reports help them prod their children to study and get assignments in on time. But 49% said teachers don’t keep their pages updated, 14% said grade and assignment information is inaccurate and 15% said their children resent such monitoring efforts.

Charting students’ performance in real time — not just at the end of the grading period — means more work for teachers. Is it worth it? I’d think so, but I’d be interested to see what teachers and parents think.

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  1. It’s a great idea, but not reliable in practice. Palo Alto has tried several such systems recently (in fact, they have two or three active simultaneously at the moment, which is even more confusing), but it’s all dependent on the teachers being willing to duplicate all the info in their grade books in the online system (as well as assigning weights to each grade), which only some are willing to do.

    Furthermore, the system calculates an overall grade based on a homework-and-quizzes model which fits math classes but doesn’t really work for theater or music or PE or any class where “class participation” is a factor; that’s something which is impractical to grade on a daily/weekly basis. Extra credit assignments are hard to factor in, and so on. The fact is that lots of classes aren’t really graded based on numerical calculation, which is the basis of the online system.

    It HAS been useful for finding out about absences (although we get called/emailed about those anyway), tardies, missed or incomplete assignments, and so on. But it’s not very helpful regarding grades.

  2. Students have a hard time transitioning to college after this system. I see the benefits for younger students, maybe middle schoolers who are switching to having all of those quizzes and homework assignments count in their grades and then slowly wean them off by the time they graduate from high school.

  3. I can’t believe teachers still keep paper records. This is the twenty first century! Business practices have moved strongly to electronic records. For compliance purposes, lots of things HAVE to be electronic. It’s no more trouble to type a “B” into a website than to write it into a book.

    The company I work for has ALL compliance-related stuff online and nearly all HR functions and benefits “paperwork” are electronic. I’ve never even gotten a paper check from them.

    I’ll bet attendance records (which mean money) have been electronic for years.

  4. I no longer keep a paper roll book or grade book. Parents and students have access to our online gradebook. We also have an automated telephone system, where I can select from an extensive menu of pre-recorded messages (and add more if needed) and the computer makes the calls that evening.

  5. We are using PowerSchoolfrom Pearson – parents (AND STUDENTS) can check grades/absences online at any time. I assume, some parents rarely do so – otherwise, why would we still get the angry calls when reports are mailed home (something in the line of “Nobody told me that Johnnie was failing this class). We do, though, encourage the students to monitor their own grades – in HS that should be enough. In terms of updating the records – yeas, some of the teachers are slow, especially when the assignments are graded by hand… I like the online gradebook: it keeps everything in the open – and removes that “nobody told me” part from the conversations.

  6. I teach at a homeschool co-op, and a lot of the middle and high school teachers keep their grades on engrade. I know that some of my students’ parents check their accounts regularly, while others feel that high school is the time for students to start taking responsibility for their work so they check in more infrequently. While, as a parent and a teacher, I think that parents should be kept informed about any chronic problems (tardiness, missing assignments, low grades), kids need the space to be able to screw up occasionally and take responsibility for their mistakes without their parents checking over their shoulder. Even my kids’ preschool teachers don’t tell us about every time that a kid needed a time-out!

  7. After our district moved to our new grading-attendance-discipline-records uber-management system online, I’ve been *quite* the happy camper. No longer do I have to field calls or emails about whether or not baby is doing his/her homework–all that information is available to the parents online. They also know what baby’s grade is. It takes no extra effort for me to input this information than it did before this system was put into place, but now parents have access. Nowadays, if I get a message from a parent it’s more akin to “I see baby hasn’t been turning in assignments. I’m now on top of this, can we work out a plan for getting all this work turned in in a reasonable timeframe?” What teacher *wouldn’t* want to get that kind of message?

    Also, I don’t have to fill out paper progress reports, report cards, etc. anymore. I think it’s great.

  8. As a teacher, I like the online systems. Ours is flexible enough that you can grade any kind of thing at any kind of weight. Students and parents can check anytime. While I keep a paper backup (this comes in handy a couple of times a year when the system goes down) and do my online data entry only once a day, I don’t keep running totals anymore. The online system does that for me and families can see how the three small grading periods are affecting semester grades. Data entry is fast and I can adjust all sorts of things. I teach in middle school.

    As a parent, I’m mixed. My kids are still in elementary, so we try to keep on top of it so we can work with the kids to get them caught up when they fall behind. But once they go to high school, I only want to be checking very occasionally. They need practice when they get older doing this themselves. I am frustrated with teachers who only enter final grades into the online system for report card purposes or who forget to mark the “missing” checkbox, which lets parents know that an assignment was never turned in. Most systems have such a box but not every teacher knows to check it.

  9. Yes, I’ve never had a gradebook. I do everything online. I tell my parents that I enter tests right away. I enter a classwork grade–I used to do it whenver, until I realized it was a good way to signal parents that their students wasn’t working, so now I do it daily. Homework, whenever. It’s not a big part of my grade.

  10. lightly seasoned says:

    Our system is all online. Cuts way down on answering parent emails, etc. I inform them at the beginning of the year that I do my updates on Mondays. I actually do it more often, but that keeps them off my back.

    With my own kid, I can avoid bugging her teachers, which is fine. It is a dangerous tool for the obsessive parents, though, who check daily and hound their kids constantly about every lost point.

    I also grade papers online through Turnitin and have it set so kids can see their grade/corrections immediately.

  11. Obi-Wandreas says:

    Our district is currently transitioning to an online system. By next year, we’ll have to use it for all our grades. I’ve been using Easy Grade Pro for 9 years. I’m not looking forward to having to use a very inflexible web interface. Fortunately, the tech guy showed me a few tricks so that inputting grades will only take twice as long instead of 5 times as long. I’m still going to have to make many changes to the system I’ve used for grading and scoring just to make it legible on the system.

    I love the idea of parents having access to their kids grades and attendance at any time. The execution, however, promises to be a world class cluster circle.

  12. I miss easy grade pro. That program was clearly written for teachers. Sadly, many of the current online programs the districts are using were clearly written for administrators…

  13. I liked Ezgrade fine, but the tradeoff of instant parental communication is well worth the minor tradeoff in flexibility. So long as I can weight grade categories, I don’t care about much else.

    • Instead of weighting grade categories, I give assignments worth odd numbers of points – I grade out of 500 or 1000 points, so if I want 40% to be tests, for instance, I give 4 tests worth 100 points or 2 tests worth 200 points, etc. Quizzes are weekly, worth 10 points x 15 weeks, so 15% of the grade. I give projects worth varying number of points (lab reports, problem sets that are bigger than homework), so it gives me a bit of a fudge factor in making the points add up.
      I never had a teacher who used this, but when I talked to a friend who is a retired hs math teacher, she said that she had used this method when she taught because back in the pre-computer days it made it easy to keep grades current because she didn’t have to keep re-averaging. My students like it because its easy for them to figure out what they need to get on each assignment so I don’t hear ‘what do I need to get on the final?’.

      • I don’t like that method; I like my tests and quizzes to be a consistent 50 or 100 points. I can see using it before computers, but now, I prefer weighting. It keeps track of everything for me.

        Plus, with categories, I can ignore things like homework if it makes their grade improve.

      • Peace Corps says:

        I prefer weighting, but my administrator is forcing total points on us few teachers that still weight. He believes that total points are easier for parents to understand.

        I’ll find a way to make it work for my classes.

    • We had a techie science teacher who set up a server for our school, and we exported our gradebook to that server. The parents could log on to that server and see their kids grades. We were using EZ Grade Pro at the time. Everyone loved it…we got lots of attaboys, and then the next year the district mandated that we switch to Zangle.

  14. We have PowerSchool here as well. It has never stopped teachers from emailing me with any questions or concerns they might have, and it hasn’t prevented me from writing them. This year, I am able to use it for all my older ps-educated children as it is one account and one password. It was a nightmare before.