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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Student-Information Systems Monitor Kids' Grades

Online technology connects moms and dads to what's happening in class.
By Alex Gronke
Credit: Hugh D'Andrade

When Candi Bashiri's son walks through the door after school, she doesn't have to ask if he has any homework. She already knows. That's because in 2007, Dougherty Valley High School, in San Ramon, California, piloted a program called School Loop, essentially putting grade books, attendance sheets, student binders, and even blackboards online.

With a few mouse clicks on her computer at work, Bashiri can check her high schooler's assignments and test scores -- and see in nearly real time if he has skipped class or missed a deadline. In the information war frequently waged between parents and teens, technology has awarded her an overwhelming advantage.

With School Loop, parents, teachers, administrators, and students can access a vast quantity of data as effortlessly as opening an email. The San Ramon Valley Unified School District is now making the system available to the roughly 14,000 students in twelve schools at a cost of around $60,000 a year.

School districts across the country are adopting School Loop and similar systems, such as Edline and PowerSchool. Ed Zaiontz, chair-elect of the Consortium for School Networking and executive director of information services at the Round Rock Independent School District, encompassing parts of Austin, as well as Cedar Park and Round Rock, Texas, says that the trend toward shuttling information between schools, homes, and district offices will continue to grow as the digital divide shrinks. Even if parents don't have the Internet at home, it's likely they can go online at work, Zaiontz says. Some districts also offer computer stations for parents to use.

Meeting Resistance

One might expect that the current crop of high school students -- kids who learned to read even as they learned to click a mouse and hit Enter -- wouldn't think twice about keeping track of their classes online. But the experience at San Ramon's California High School suggests that not everyone in the wired generation is an eager early adopter.

Samara Al-Jumaily, a senior at California, says that when the school first started using School Loop in 2007, about half of her classmates groused about the new window parents would have on their school days. A fan of School Loop, Al-Jumaily says she is also weary of hearing teachers complain about keeping their records up to date on the system. "I don't understand why everyone hates it so much," she says. "Everything you need is on there."

The real success of such products rests with the teachers. If they don't update the system at the back end with grades and assignments, the whole exercise becomes pointless. And there is a measure of ambivalence among teachers about Web-based technologies that dissolve traditional boundaries between the living room and the classroom.

Bonnie Meyers has a unique perspective on student-information systems -- that of a teacher and a parent. She teaches history and English to sixth graders at the district's Diablo Vista Middle School, and her daughters go to California. She says she sees the undeniable merit of School Loop when it's used properly, but there are times when it's misused, or not used often enough. Diablo Vista's principal expects that teachers will update student and class information in the system about once a week, says Meyers.

But at other schools in the district, that may not be happening. "If a teacher updates only every three weeks, it's supposed to be keeping parents in the loop, but it's doing the opposite," says Meyers, who updates her information at least weekly.

Learning to Chill

Parents, too, need to use their newfound power wisely, as Bashiri discovered. When her son got a bad grade on one assignment, she came down so hard on him that she realized she was losing perspective. "Parents have to learn how to moderate reactions and not freak out when they see a missed assignment or a bad grade," she says. As a service to the rest of the district, Bashiri wrote a manual called A Parent's Guide to School Loop, which among other practical advice cautions parents to "refrain from using the information to apply additional pressure and stress on our students." Instead, Bashiri says, parents can use the information to help their students plan ahead and manage their time.

Now, when her son gives her a noncommittal answer about an upcoming test or a grade in a particular class, she always says the same thing: "Dude, you know I've got School Loop."

Alex Gronke is a former special education teacher and a reporter in Oakland, California.

Comments (7)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

John's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach in a semi-rural school district that is beginning the implementation of a similar online grade book application. This article worries me a bit because I already see the attitude in my building paralleling what is mentioned here. Rather than presenting the grade book as a benefit to teachers, it was issued as a district initiative. I'm all for the idea, but as with all technology, it will only be effective if all participants (teachers, students, parents, etc) "buy in" to the idea.

kris kuhn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm still on the fence. The easy access to grades has made enough helicopter parents into Blackhawks and when a student biffs a 5 pt. assignment I get an email asking if we need a conference. Or, if a student hasn't turned in a piece yet, due to illness, I leave the space empty until it is in. This precipitates emails like "why haven't you graded my child's assignment?"

Others, less hawkish but just as well meaning, send emails like "What can Mark do to raise his A- to an A?" I may be out-of-line, but I respond, "Please encourage Mark to speak with me about that." I am not a fan of the triangulation that this can cause - once again removing the student from responsibility in his/her education.

I believe front loading one's methods of on-line grading is critical so that parents are not freaked out or overly involved. I worry that this can cause teachers to 'have' to grade on a prescriptive schedule. When I am tracking through and writing on 50 5-7 papers, I want latitude to assess those papers thoroughly and to use them as tools for teaching as well.

This type of technology has benefits, but instruction and flexibility are needed.

Cyndee Perkins's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Bonnie Meyers and the need for regular updating of an SIS, but as John pointed out, we need buy-in from the teachers. If schools invest a little more money and time for professional development of staff, the teachers would not only understand the value of an SIS but enjoy using it! And once that barrier has been broken down, teachers will use the reporting features of other software.

As curriculum director for COMPUTER EXPLORERS, a technology outsource company for schools, I review a lot of instructional software. As a former teacher, the software that excites me is that which gives me data that can impact better use of my teaching time. One online math program I recently reviewed will give me student test results AND tell me the areas where students need reinforcement within seconds! I could see if I needed to reteach all of fractions or simply review division of fractions. Ordinarily I would have spent several hours assessing the students' performance and analyzing what I needed to do. If I can do that analysis in seconds, I can get back to teaching what the children need to know!

Cyndee Perkins
Director, Curriculum and Program Development
http://wwww.computerexplorers.com

Bryan Pendleton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Kris Kuhn's ambivalence. There is a great positive in parents' access to their children's scholastic information. It enables them to stay alert to their children's progress/needs at a minimal expense of time. Thorough teachers' reports can pinpoint areas that parents can strengthen.

On the other hand, there is a loss of personal (i.e. face-to-face) contact between parents and teachers that can't be approximated by electronic conversations. That also plays into the danger of overreaction to minor issues and/or micromanaging. Already taxed students may be further stressed with the pressure of immediate accountability for every misstep.

As with many pieces of technology, there are many potential advantages but an equal need for effort to avoid causing harm.

Barbara Vannella's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My daughter's middle school utilizes an on-line grade book program as well. When this program first became available two years ago, I was excited to see every assignment and every grade and checked daily. Since my daughter is a good student, I knew what to expect. If she were having trouble in school, I think this program would be even more beneficial because not only would she be accountable at school, but also at home. I think there will always be parents who want to micro-manage their children's school career, this is just a more immediate way to get the same information that would have come home on report cards or interim reports.

Kevin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I get straight A's (ok an A- in gym because the teacher's a meanie)
and I am sick of my parents spying on me. wth?

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