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Online Grades

The system aims to encourage responsibility by letting students track their own progress. But it can foster parental hovering, too. “Looking at your child’s grades is not micro-managing,” insisted another mom I know, who checks often because her son doesn’t. “It’s like doing reconnaissance. Can parents ever have too much info about their teens?” Here’s a dad who loves the tool: “When we were kids, there was so much stress not knowing what our running grade from  were or where we stood. This makes sure that kids don’t fall behind or get too far off track.” It’s easy to abuse, though. “I would have been a mess if my parents had been tracking every 1/10th of a percent change in my grades,” said a high-school mom who used to check regularly and quit cold turkey. For me, the screen view makes it too easy to focus on the strike-outs over the home-runs. I find myself scanning past the As and Bs to zero in on rare Cs and Ds — the same way I scan my inbox for the most urgent emails. Hence did a recent, spontaneous 9 p.m. foray onto the Web with my son quickly devolve into an argument that left us both in tears, debating the value of the Pythagorean theorem in the grand scheme of life, and flinging trite phrases like “apply yourself” and “off my back” that truly ought never be flung. We both had to wonder: Is instant, 24-hour, exhaustive information too much information? “What happens with these online grade systems, like any technology, is parents feel overwhelmed and outgunned,” said parenting expert Caroline Knorr. She works with Common Sense Media, an organization that advises parents, educators, and kids about media use. “New tools like this have a way of sneaking up on us. They preempt us before we can figure out how to deal with them.” She recommends asking teachers outright, “How am I supposed to be using this? What do you expect from us?” and establishing rules within each family about who will check the grades, how often, and how best to follow up on missing assignments, grading errors, etc. My greater concern stems from vivid memories of bounding into the house brandishing an A+ test — or skulking home with an F in my backpack and a “don’t freak out” speech at the ready. Online gradebooks make such moments obsolete, and I can’t say exactly what’s lost when a child no longer gets to surprise her parents with her successes, or has to personally present them with her failures. But I know that whatever it is can’t be won back by clicking “reload.”]]>

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