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Published in Print: March 1, 2005, as Class Monitors

Class Monitors

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New programs let parents track their kids' work in real time.

I have two wonderful kids, but when it comes to academics, they are decidedly different. My daughter, Carrie, has a genuine scholastic bent. She got good grades, graduated with honors, and went on to earn two college degrees. There was never a parent-teacher conference I did not look forward to attending.

And then there is Brady, my son, who graduated from high school this past spring. He’s a smart and delightful young man, but his motto has always been, “What is the absolute minimum I need to do to get by?” Report cards and teacher conferences often contained surprising— and disappointing—information. It seemed Brady and his teachers had different ideas of what constituted “minimum.” And judging by conversations with other parents, Brady isn’t the only “Mr. Minimum” in this world.

Academic performance is important both to teachers and to caring parents. Given this common goal, they’re natural partners, but all too often, communication between them is inadequate, inconvenient, and belated. By the time a report card comes out, bad habits have been formed and skills for future learning have not been acquired, increasing the chance of more failure. How can technology improve home/school communications so that parents and teachers are truly working together to increase the chance of every kid’s success—especially for the Bradys out there?

While the district I work for has encouraged the use of e-mail and classroom Web pages for years, we only recently implemented a program that gives parents realtime access to their children’s academic progress. We use ParentCONNECTxp, but a number of similar programs also provide parental access to student information. With a Web browser, users can log on to the site and view attendance, health, and discipline records; descriptions of courses; a listing of grades; class rank; and students’ course histories. Even teachers’ grade books are accessible so that parents can see scores on daily work, tests, and projects and view upcoming assignments. If requested, the software will automatically send parents an e-mail if their kid is tardy or absent, fails to turn in an assignment, or performs poorly on a test.

For those accustomed to accessing bank account, flight status, and shipment information online, checking a child’s school progress in this way is intuitive. Rather than relying on brief parent-teacher conferences or on quarterly report cards that say little about student performance, they can monitor work on a daily basis. They can also check the accuracy of health, disciplinary, and demographic information. Supper-time conversation changes from a casual “How’s school going?” and a grunted reply of “Fine” to a genuine discussion of what’s happening this week.

At first, teachers thought they’d have to put in extra time to make the program work; they were also concerned about increased parental e-mail and the potential for compromised student information. But the system is now popular with both parents and teachers—although less so with students. Parent questions get answered without frequent e-mails and phone calls, and because the program imports data directly from a school’s student information system and electronic grade books, there are no additional reporting requirements on the part of teachers. Strict server security and a formal procedure for registering parent logins and passwords help ensure student privacy.

What teachers have found is that they need to keep their grade books current and have a defensible system for how they determine grades, both of which are good professional practice, anyway. And of course, this program does little for parents without computer skills, Internet access, or interest in their children’s education.

It seems natural that the next step for my district will be to link specific assignments and projects with the curriculum standards they meet and the assessments used to evaluate them. Having that information will allow parents to be “quality control managers,” which is exactly what they want: In a 1999 survey, the Horace Mann Educators Corporation found that 96 percent of American adults think parents should partner with teachers in their children’s education. For that reason, offering parents real-time access to student progress will ultimately be as necessary as giving customers access to online bank statements.

Vol. 16, Issue 05, Page 51

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