I hear parents talking about Parent Portals or Parent Online Communities like they're the greatest stride forward since chalkboards were introduced into schools. These portals are part of what are called Student Information Systems, huge databases of information about students kept by schools. Now some of this data such as grades, report cards, home assignments, project guidelines, deadlines, absences, tardiness, etc. are often available to parents through online access. Not all schools or districts post the same information for parents; it's up to the school system (or school) to decide what can be seen through Parent Portals.
Student Information System portals offer immediate access to what's going on in school, or at least to what the school and its teachers opt to post. Think of portals whisking you into your children's classroom on the day when projects are announced. It's like being there listening to your children's teachers, or is it? -And if teachers are really speedy posting grades, you could know your children's grades before they do. But do you really want to?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not against giving parents information, and I think Parent Portals are a terrific way to help parents and teachers work together. Good teachers have always partnered with parents by keeping them up-to-date with student progress. My guideline is: "Let there be no surprises on report cards. Surprises are for birthdays and holiday celebrations." With that in mind, let's consider some of the positives and negatives of Parent Portals.
Not Becoming a Student Stalker
Like the folks who are obsessed with logging in to online banking every few hours to check their balances or those who check their credit score hourly, parents can be equally obsessed with checking their children's assignments and grades.
Let's take the grades first. It's a good thing for you to have access to grades because your children may not bring their tests home for you to see. Not all children keep parents informed about how they are doing. Some may be afraid to tell their parents about a bad grade, but if the parent doesn't know about it, he or she won't have the chance to help their child do better next time. Children who know their grades are available online may be more likely to discuss their tests with parents, or they may think that telling parents about grades is unnecessary because they are right there online.
Many students, especially the older ones, don't appreciate their parents looking over their shoulders all the time.
You have to decide how to handle the knowledge a Portal can give you about your children's grades. If, for example, you've signed in to the Portal and discovered some not-so-pleasing grades, do you stand at the front door waving the printout at your children before they can get into the house after school? Do you wait until they have a chance to bring up the problem grades to you? If they don't mention the grades, can you think of a non-threatening way you can bring up the problem? There are so many feelings tied up in student evaluation. Your job is to help your children gain the knowledge and confidence they need to do better next time.
Many parents get upset if their children receive a poor grade. It hurts the kids and the parents, but the only remedy is to use the grade to step forward.
How about assignments and projects? With homework and projects posted online, it's a perfect way to check what exactly is expected and when it is due. Having assignments online means you won't have to go out at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night searching for poster paper and special markers so that your children can complete a project that was assigned a month ago. One of the great positives of having assignments online is that when children are absent, the assignments are right there waiting for them. They don't have to call a friend and depend upon that person to relay the assignment correctly.
-But like knowing your children's grades, you've got to decide how best to handle the knowledge of assignments and projects the Portal gives you. If your kids are like mine, a little nudge now and then is a good thing, but if you are always telling your kids what the assignments are, why should they bother to be responsible?
While some help and some nudges are effective, you don't want your children to become dependent upon you when it comes to their schoolwork. You want them to understand what their assignments are and to be able to carry them out on their own. Maybe they won't be able to do this all the time, but by the time they get to college they'll need to be. College professors won't be working with you.
Teachers Are Not Computers
Not in Posting....
Parent Portals are only as good as the information that is put into them. While some of your children's teachers may post outstanding guidelines for assignments and post grades in a timely manner, others may not. Therefore, what is posted online for assignments and projects may not be consistent teacher to teacher or school to school. Because some teachers don't have a great Web area doesn't mean they are not effective teachers. It just means that they aren't as good with posting assignments online.
Not in Grading...
How might Parent Portals affect grading? If teachers make every grade available through a Portal, does this lock them into giving an average of the grades posted? Good teachers have often forgotten poor grades that were given early in a term if students catch on and demonstrate that they can do well on later testing. Locking teachers in with grades that are posted limits flexibility that could be used to motivate students. Think about a teacher who gives a test on which every student, or nearly every student does poorly. Chances are it wasn't a good test, and it should be thrown into the trash. Maybe the teacher is unhappy about an incident in the class and decides to post the grades. Then the next day, the teacher has second thoughts about the test. The grades are posted and the damage done.
Not in Writing Comments...
Student Information Systems often come with "standardized" comments teachers can use when writing to parents. In most schools teachers don't have to use these comments, and some combine their comments with "canned" comments. While appropriate and on target, the "standardized" comments are for your child and everybody else's child - not your child specifically.
He has met all the standards expected for this course.
He exhibits a positive attitude.
To be sure, Student Information Systems are a giant step into the future of education. There are so many ways they can help students, parents and teachers. We must make sure, however, that the positives of the new ways are integrated with the positives of the the old ways-like having information parents want posted online, but not forgetting the value of a sincere note or a phone call from a thoughtful and understanding teacher.I am so pleased with Johnny's progress this term. You should have seen the wonderful smile on his face when he gave his report on polar bear habitat. Thank you for working so closely with me to help Johnny realize that he is capable of wowing us with his knowledge and creativity. We are all looking forward to his next report.