As Oklahoma Schools Move Grades Online, Conversations Change
The days of students skipping class without their parents finding out or hiding an F on a midterm report card may be in the past as school districts embrace technology and instant notifications.
"The conversation that happens at dinner tables across the county every night is changing," Norman Public Schools Superintendent Joe Siano said. "Today a parent doesn't say 'What did you do?' He asks 'How's that social studies project that's due on Friday coming?'"
That more-informed dinner conversation—driven by tools such as real-time online grade books and email notifications—is the key to better schools and a more involved community, Siano said.
Norman Public Schools launched an application for smartphones last month that allows the district and schools to send messages directly to the iPhones or Androids of those who download the free application.
The School Connect Application already has been downloaded 10,000 times, and 78 school districts across the country are in the process of reviewing the free tool for their schools.
Edmond Public Schools adopted an entirely online report card system, using an online grade book that the district has had in place for about six years.
At the district's three high schools, only about a dozen parents have requested to get the paper-and-ink report cards—and one of those requests was for a scrapbook.
Even the creators of the School Connect smartphone application for Norman Public Schools didn't realize how high the demand was for schools to be at the forefront of technology.
"We did not believe that it would take off this quickly," said Steve McDaniel, owner of School Connect. "We knew that it would be something a lot of districts would be interested in due to the communication side of things. If you look at the school district, it's really hard to communicate with the community right now unless they have a kid in school."
The free application that can be downloaded by anyone changes that.
Using the application, anyone can select a school to follow and get instant updates to their phone with things such as school closures, important events or the next school board meeting agenda.
And the communication works the other way, too. With the touch of a link, application users can email their board members or a principal.
Edmond Public Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools both are in line to launch smartphone applications in December.
Edmond Public Schools has had an online grade book system in place for six years, but this is the first year that it is the primary source of grades for parents and students.
"They see their grades as they're put in, so if they want to check on their students every day, they can," said Paula Eastham, systems analyst for Edmond Public Schools. "It's not like waiting weeks for that report card to come home and having no idea what you'll have."
The Edmond Public Schools grade book also shows absences and tardies.
And parents can set up automatic notifications to alert them if their child's grade falls below a certain level, or if it rises to a certain level.
"Everybody I know loves it," said Jan Reiley, mother of two students at Edmond North High School. "You can log on at anytime, pull up your student's current semester, and it will show all of the classes, teachers and current grades. If you go into the particular class, it will show you all the grades, like he got this on his homework, this on this quiz. And if anything's blank, it will tell you.
"Say your child is really struggling in biology to get the grade above a B, when it reaches 80, it will email you, then you can buy them a chocolate shake," Reiley joked.
Now that her students are in high school, she doesn't check the grade book as often, helping her teens prepare for the independence of college.
When her children were in middle school, Reiley and her husband checked the grade book once a day and then in high school they cut back to once a week. Now that her daughter is a senior, they rarely check the grade book.
Siano said while his district is pioneering the smartphone application, using an online grade book system and rolling out an $11 million project to improve technology in the classroom, it isn't abandoning the traditional newsletter or parent-teacher conference.
"Technology should never replace the real one-to-one communication between the teacher and parent and student about how their child is doing and what ways we can work together and make that successful," Siano said.
"It is a tool and an enhancement, but it doesn't replace the relationships with parents and relationships with kids."
There's also concern of the digital divide, Siano said, which is why the district is not replacing traditional modes of communication, but adding to them.
Many parents don't have access to a computer or the Internet at home, and for lower-income families the cost of a smartphone is prohibitive.
As some schools move increasingly toward using websites and emails to communicate with parents, those without the technology may be left out of the conversation.
"It's something that we've kept in mind," Siano said. "I think the key word is enhancing communication tools, not deleting communication tools."