Schools Making Grades Available Online
By ANICK JESDANUN
Feb 1, 9:16 PM (ET)
Gone are the days when parents would find out how their kids were
doing in school only when report cards came home or during
parent-teacher conferences. A growing number of teachers and schools
are making grades available nearly in real-time over the Internet. Some
teachers include pending assignments, written comments, class
participation and disciplinary actions as well.
Many schools also let parents check whether their kids skipped first
period, or whether they had chips or an apple for lunch. And as schools
further integrate their computer systems, parents one day might also be
able to see what library books their children have checked out and
whether any are overdue.
Debbie Karl's after-school chats with her two sons are typically
brief: How was school today? Fine. Anything going on? Nothing.
The Internet now lets the Texas college professor find out when her
kids are hiding something - such as the fact her younger son, Derek, is
"My sixth grader has not bothered to tell me he is failing math for
the first time in his life," Karl said. "I was just perusing (the Web
site) and he's got one, two, three, four, five zeros. I have
immediately put a call in to that teacher."
Karl, chairwoman of computer information technology at Texas State
Technical College in Abilene, Texas, wishes more teachers would
"If everybody would use it and use it more, we could be more involved
in our children's education," Karl said.
No figures were available on the percentage of schools offering
parental access online, but school officials say it is relatively low
although such offerings have been around for years. One vendor of
systems for managing student information, Pearson Education, estimates
that only a quarter of its 16,000 school districts buy the optional
And even in districts with the capability, not all schools or teachers
have signed on. Only some schools require teachers to participate,
though sometimes parents pressure them to do so.
Among the chief complaints:
_Teachers, particularly those used to calculating grades by hand,
aren't always comfortable using software or don't want to take the time
to enter grades. Rosemarie Young, an elementary school principal in
Louisville, Ky., said she would rather see her teachers spend their
limited time with the kids.
_Some teachers guard their grade books zealously and worry that making
individual grades open for inspection would let parents quibble or
would reduce their discretion in adjusting grades for factors that
tests might not pick up.
_Parents can nag teachers who fall behind in grading.
"They know their kid studied all night and they know their kid took a
test at 10:10 in the morning. At noon, they are online and asking,
'Where's my kid's test score?'" said Kenneth Bird, superintendent of
Westside Community Schools in Omaha, Neb., which use Apple Computer
Inc. (AAPL)'s PowerSchool system.
Furthermore, many parents lack Internet access or computer skills. And
technology alone won't always make inattentive parents suddenly
But it might help those parents who skipped parents-teachers nights
because they were juggling three jobs: Now they can check grades as
easily as a stock quote.
"It doesn't mean necessarily that we're turning every kid around, but
I think we're intervening more effectively than we did before," said
David Stedman, who teaches U.S. history and American literature at Mead
High School in Spokane, Wash.
Web access gets the community more involved and "gives parents a good
feeling they have a good understanding what's going on at school," said
Bonnie Bracey, a former schoolteacher who now trains teachers on
Bird said many doubters have come to realize that improved dialogue
can only be good. The focus of parent-teacher conferences, he said, now
can be less on performance and more on what to do about it.
Before, parents had few opportunities to follow their kids'
performance. Report cards and progress reports go out every several
weeks or months. Parent-teacher conferences take place once or twice a
year. Teachers call parents only when things get dire. Notes that go
home with students often get "lost" before reaching the parent.
So parents must wring information out of their children directly.
"Kids don't always bring the bad stuff home," said Lynn Brokus, a
parent who serves as a webmaster for Tri-City Christian Academy in
With the school's Gradeworks and Easy Grade Pro packages, Brokus can
see instantly what assignments hadn't been turned in.
Before, she might have found out from a progress report sent midway
through a term, but by then, "you've missed half a semester, and they
could still have more stuff missing for the second half."
Many teachers say they appreciate such parental involvement even if it
opens them up to the occasional quibbling or nitpicking about
"We want to find ways to keep parents more informed so they can be
more involved in their child's education," said Noelle Kreider, a
technology integration coach at the Rialto Unified School District in
Open access also lets parents correct mistakes - so children don't get
penalized for absences that should have been marked "excused," said
Virginia Warner, a high school teacher in Virginia City, Nev.
Val Jerdes, a Milpitas, Calif., high school English teacher who uses
the ThinkWave software package, said students can also log on and see
for themselves how their efforts correlate with their grades.
"I've seen C and D students rise up to the B and A category," Jerdes
said. "I would attribute a lot of that to the program."
For parents without Internet access, schools sometimes use their
software to print out weekly reports to send home. Vendors are also
exploring alternatives such as voice recognition technology.
One school even partnered with a grocery store chain to install
Internet kiosks, said Shannon Flesch, manager of marketing operations
at software vendor Skyward Inc.
Tom Doohan, who is piloting the Skyward package for Colbert Elementary
School in Colbert, Wash., said the Web access hasn't reduced his other
obligations: completing progress reports, calling and meeting with
parents, writing letters home.
But with the software, he said, "there will never be a surprise as to
grades or work that's out."
Anick Jesdanun can be reached at netwriter(at)ap.org