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Plugged-In Parents Monitor Kids' Grades and Assignments Online

During the past decade, technology has increasingly opened the blinds between kids’ classrooms and their parents. These days, schools issue usernames and passwords to parents, enabling them to check their youngsters’ assignments, attendance, grades, disciplinary referrals and other data in real time, at their convenience.

There are lots of systems — Home Access Center (HAC), Parent Assistant and Genesis, to name a few — enhancing the flow of information between school and home.

“We know that parent engagement is a factor in better student achievement,” says Kathy Demarest, a spokeswoman for the New Castle County Vocational Technical District in Wilmington, DE. She uses the image of a three-legged stool that partners parents, schools and students for successful education. If parents aren’t paying attention, children can be living “under the radar,” she says. The online system “is a great tool to keep connected.”

New Castle County Vo Tech District, comprised of four high schools serving 4,700 students, was one of the first districts to adopt HAC when it was rolled out by the Delaware Department of Education six years ago. Last school year about 88 percent of its households logged on to HAC, up from under 50 percent the previous year, and 93 percent of the students use the system. “We’re thrilled,” Demarest says.

No More Excuses

Rose Tree Media School District in Media, PA uses the HAC system for grades 6-12. “No more the-dog-ate-my-homework excuses!” says Patti Linden, the district’s technology director “Parents used to say, ‘If I’d only known.’ Now they can.” With no ugly surprises, she explains, this “powerful tool gives way more opportunity for success.”

“Report cards become almost irrelevant,” muses Mike Wilson, principal of Haddonfield Memorial High School in Haddonfield, NJ. Students and parents can calculate grades all along the way, and plan ahead for projects and tests. Parents don’t need to wait to be contacted when a problem is festering, because most systems can automatically warn them at whatever threshold grade or issue they specify. Online systems provide early warning, safety nets and immediate positive feedback.

Even districts where up to half the parents lack home-based Internet, such as Quakertown, PA, are implementing systems that provide parent access, relying on school and library computer facilities to give these parents access. Online reporting began last school year for middle and high school students, using the Power School computer system, and is expanding to elementary students this year.

Quakertown assistant superintendent Kathy Metrick says that though the system is still incomplete, it “can be very data rich.” For schools using standards-based grading, online reporting systems can help parents identify specific aspects of their kid’s classroom performance that may be particularly weak or strong. For example, as a student tries to gain mastery in math, parents can see how their child is doing on exponents, computational skills or other specific topics. The parent might notice that homework assignments aren’t being turned in, and can address that with the child soon after the problem begins. Quakertown teachers can see how often parents have signed into the system.

How to Use Online Reporting

Online systems offer parents more than the ability to monitor their kids. To maximize the value of these systems, Demarest, Linden, Metrick and Wilson offer these suggestions.

Familiarize yourself with what teachers post about their course content. For example, teachers can post sample problems, strategies for problem-solving or the format for lab reports. Use teachers’ notes to help you support your child’s learning.

Play with the site. “Press every button and discover whatever information you can. You can’t break it. Don’t be afraid,” says Metrick. Check the portal before you contact the teacher.

E-mail teachers, as needed. This technology is more efficient than playing phone tag; it streamlines communication. Use online access as a springboard for conversation.

Capitalize on information to encourage your child’s positive attitude about learning. Emphasize lifelong learning and discuss where specific concepts or skills have meaning in your own life.

Go beyond ‘what did you do in school today?’ to ask specific questions about content and understanding. For instance, ask “What did you think about . . . ?”

Use course information to “extend and personalize the educational experience” for your child, says Wilson. Ask your child what he discovered about a particular concept, or how it connects with something else. You can also check if there are areas of difficulty or confusion. If your child is struggling, you might suggest how to get extra help. You can also respond promptly if your child needs extra stimulation or approval.

Preview assignments so you can help your child learn time management. If there’s a big project due in one week and you don’t see evidence that it’s underway or if the youngster is overwhelmed, you can work together on planning and ways to organize to achieve her goal.

Encourage the student to use the portal to learn how different grading systems work, calculate her own grades and monitor (and improve) her own progress..

Request contacts and alerts from the school or teacher if you’re concerned about your child’s progress or placement.

Make sure your contact information is current and periodically review your child’s record.

Allow for significant variations in how different educators use the system. Grant reasonable leeway for teachers to post grades. It’s not helpful when paents harass their kids or teachers, or hover so closely that they use the portal as their homepage.

Ann L. Rappoport, PhD is an educational consultant and a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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