Remember when your parents had to wait until your report card got mailed home to find out how you were doing in school? That scenario is fast becoming a thing of the past. Many parents of middle and high school students can find out instantly how their kiddos are faring, thanks to an online gradebook provided by the school district.
These web-based portals allow parents and students to log in and get up-to-date information on test scores, assignment grades, their overall class average, and sometimes even notes from the teacher.
Pros and Cons
The concept of parents checking grades online is relatively new—and many moms and dads think it’s great. “If your child knows their test scores, and you have a good sense of how they’re doing overall, you have no surprises when the end of the semester comes,” says Season Skuro, the mother of a seventh grader in Calabasas, California.
While there are certainly positive aspects of online gradebooks, there are also some downsides. “If you have a family that doesn’t have an internet connection at home, that’s an issue. There’s still that barrier for some families,” says Wendy Eckenrod-Green, Ph.D., an associate professor in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.
Online portals also have the potential to make both kids and parents obsessed with grades. It can be tempting to check in constantly and feel heavily invested in each point gained or lost. “It becomes easy to lose sight of the big picture,” says Linda LoGalbo, director of Curriculum and Instruction at Beachwood Schools in Beachwood, Ohio. “One of the challenges for parents is to understand that grades are fluid. The online gradebook shows a snapshot in time.”
Some online gradebooks can be set to alert parents about low scores. “Parents, once they get those alerts, may start to panic,” says LoGalbo. “Then they’re firing off emails to the staff. They’re upset with their child that they’re not doing well in the class, when it may just be one assignment that they didn’t do well on.”
The best advice is to remember that online gradebooks are a tool to use wisely. “I recommend you sit down once a week with your child and say, ‘Let’s pull up your portal. Why don’t you show me your grades? How did you do?’” LoGalbo says. “Frame the conversation around, ‘In what areas did you do well? What areas do you think you need to improve?’ That would be more beneficial than being alerted every time a grade is submitted and micromanaging your child’s grades.”
LoGalbo also suggests looking beyond the grades to see if your child is missing any assignments. “As a parent, you want to help your child build good study habits in order to be successful in school,” she explains. If you have a middle schooler, you know that they’re famous for forgetting to turn in their work, even when they actually do it.
But here’s the key part: “Allow your students to advocate for themselves,” LoGalbo says. The middle school years are prime time for teens to learn this skill. Sitting together, have your child draft an email to their teacher. If they missed an assignment, have them apologize and ask if they can still complete it. If they’ve done poorly on a test, they should be the one to request extra help and ask about a retake.
“Teachers are more understanding than students initially think,” says LoGalbo, so it pays to ask them for help. It’s a lesson well-learned—and one that will ensure that both you and your child have an A-plus experience using an online gradebook.