Online Grades: The Mom Who Knew Too Much

In an era of online social networks, online scheduling for doctor’s appointments and online restaurant reservations, it only makes sense that the dissemination of a student’s grades would also take place online.

Enter Parent Link, Parent Portal, SnapGrades, My Gradebook and a bevy of other online student report card systems.

These electronic report cards, used by Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida, Gilbert Public Schools in Arizona and the Clark County School District in Nevada, among many others, have enabled parents to access their child’s missing assignments and quiz and test scores before the quarterly or semester report card even hits the mailbox.

But with new technology comes a new dynamic between students, parents and teachers. Students who may not usually do so hot in school are kept more accountable and, depending on the parent, may have a shorter leash now that their grades can be accessed at any time. For some, it’s the scariest and most annoying thing in the world. For others, it’s an incentive to improve or a way to monitor grades before getting in serious trouble.

Legacy High School freshman Colton Malich’s weekends are dependent on his grades. His mom, Tammy Malich, checks his grades three times a week, and always on Fridays.

“We have a deal in our house that he’s not allowed to see his girlfriend, not allowed to do extracurricular non-school-related activities unless he has no missing assignments and all of his grades are higher than a C,” says Malich, who is also the principal of Legacy in Las Vegas. “He knows that’s the rule.”

Colton, Malich says, has always needed an extra push to excel in school. But because of this system, the 14-year-old has wised up and checks his grades himself to make sure they’re up to par before even asking to go out. Also, because he participates in sports at school, she says, it’s easier for him to stay on top of his grades to remain eligible to play.

“I check my grades every other day now, and I like that I can fix things before my parents find out,” Colton says. “I make sure I’m on top of my stuff.”

Raechel Ramirez, a sophomore at Mesquite High School in Gilbert, Ariz., doesn’t like the online report cards. The 16-year-old admits that they are convenient, but she doesn’t like the fact that her parents have complete access.

“My parents check it all the time, and they’re always on my back about what’s not turned in, and ‘Why are you getting a bad grade on that?’” she says. “And that adds more stress on your parents, and then it just adds more stress on yourself.”

But Maria, Raechel’s mom, sees it a slightly different way. Maria says that being able to view her daughter’s grades online helps give her a fuller picture of what’s going on in school — like if her daughter complains about a teacher or a class.

“You can see if she’s missing assignments or an assignment she didn’t do well, and it tells her, ‘This is why your grade is what it is,’” Maria says. “She still doesn’t particularly care for it, but she looks at it, and it’s a way for her to be aware of her own grades.”

Ramirez’s high school uses SnapGrades, which has about 500 schools using its services. The system enables parents to sign up for automatic alerts when assignments are missing or if a grade drops below a certain preset threshold, says SnapGrades founder David Hundsness. He says this makes students more accountable for their actions.

“Because students can see their own grades anytime without having to ask their teachers,” he says, “they’re much better at keeping their own grades up, regardless of whether their parents are checking.”

He says people assume that students hate having their grades online for their parents to see, but a lot of students say they prefer it so that they can improve their grades before their parents find out — kind of like taking preventive measures to avoid being grounded.

That’s the case with 17-year-old Jessica Duncan, a senior at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix. Duncan says she usually does well in school, so she’s not worried if her mom goes online to check out her grades. In fact, she says she probably checks the Web site more than her mom does.

“I’ll usually check it after a test and see how much it brought down my grade — I mean, or up,” Duncan says.

Duncan says most of her friends also track their grades online, which is especially useful around finals time so they know how much they need to pull their grades up. “But then I also know some kids who know they’ll get grounded sooner rather than later” once their parents see their scores online, she says.

As with all newfangled technology, some teachers are reluctant to change their grade input routine, especially teachers who have been doing it their own way for years.

Marc Elin, principal of Windsor High School in Windsor, Calif., didn’t mandate that all his teachers use an online report card system. However, parents actually started to put pressure on teachers to adopt an online system.

What ends up happening is, if your son or daughter has seven teachers, and three are using the online grade book, “you will ask the other teachers why they don’t use it,” he says. “It’s kind of a peer influence for reluctant teachers.”

Most teachers at Windsor embraced the new system because it cut down on e-mails and phone calls from parents who wanted an answer to the eternal question of “Where does my kid stand?” he says.

“When you think about it, in the world of a teen, they’re tired of parents nagging them for information,” Elin says. “Kids don’t mind because they’re not being nagged, and it helps parent-teacher communication because now everyone’s knowledgeable.”

Stephania Rasmussen, a teacher and principal at Faith Baptist High School in Canoga Park, Calif., says the online report cards increase her accuracy with grading as well as eliminate the need for parents to constantly be checking in regarding their child’s grade.

“We’re still human,” she says. “If I make a mistake on a student’s grade, I know he’ll tell me because he can see every assignment. There’s many eyes looking at your grade book, versus just my eyes.”

Even though online student report cards may mean a headache to some students, more and more school districts are adopting them as a means of open communication — something that isn’t going away in this age of immediacy.

Jeff Hybarger, a principal in the Clark County School District, explains that with the increased transparency of teachers’ grade books, parents can be more involved in their child’s academics, which teachers often appreciate. Now “both parties can benefit by this cool means of communicating,” he says.