The Unexpected Downside to Online Grade Portals
Updated: Aug 8, 2021
Online gradebooks provide a real-time peek into a student's academic performance. Parents sign-up to receive notifications directly to their phones. Missing assignments, incomplete work, and up-to-date scores are always mere seconds away. On the surface, this seems like a wonderful use of technology. Students receive instant feedback and parents can intervene as necessary to further their child’s education. However, the reality is much more complicated. Beneficial use of a web-based grade portal requires parents and students to consistently exercise restraint. Using an online gradebook as a “live” peek into your child’s school day wreaks havoc on the overall learning experience and degrades the lifelong skills essential to your child’s post-secondary success. Staying abreast of your child's grades, minute-to-minute, will inadvertently send the wrong messages about learning, heighten their anxiety, and undercut the student/teacher relationship. When tempted to take a look at your child’s portal, you would be wise consider the following consequences.
Degrades the Student-Teacher Relationship
Learning in the 21st century should be student-centered, collaborative, provide context, and be integrated with modern society. The collaborative bond between a teacher and student is essential to deep and meaningful learning. Students will make mistakes. They will receive poor grades. These occurrences are vital learning experiences. An effective teacher will walk a student through what went wrong, correct mistakes, and make suggestions for next time. This is tremendously important. Parents, in allowing this organic student-teacher learning process to transpire, are implicitly teaching their children that mistakes are okay while reaffirming the teacher’s authority in their academic life. Parents must be vigilant against the urge to interject themselves into this process. Allow your child to learn, and to see the benefits of self-advocacy. In this scenario, learning becomes a valuable and ongoing back-and-forth between a teacher and student.
Interrupts the Learning of Others
I beg of you, do not text your child for any reason during the school day. I have personally witnessed several different students pull their phones out in the middle of a lesson. When warned to put it away they justify breaking the cell phone policy because their parent is texting them. Worse yet, I have seen children burst into tears because they are receiving a barrage of texts about a missing homework assignment, a failed test, etc. This is disruptive to everyone’s learning. Often, the child finishes out the school day in a fog of anxiety, anticipating what will happen when they get home.
In response to their parents’ habits, many students check their grades obsessively.
Between class, during class, before and after school—and they live in fear of how their parents will react. Others are self-critical of their own performance. Regardless of what underpins the anxiety, the cost is significant. The child is not fully available to learn in the classroom. Their mind is wandering off, exploring endless permutations of what will happen to them as a result of their bad grade. Furthermore, the negative consequences of anxiety and stress are well documented.
Elevates Grades over Learning
Grades are an extrinsic motivator. By constantly monitoring our children's academic performance, we are sending the message that grades are the end-all-be-all. When our conversations with our children about school revolves around grades, we are sending the message that external factors (i.e. points on an assignment) define our child as a learner. Conversations around what your child learned at school and how they assimilate that learning into their world is what education is all about.
How Often is "Just Right?"
Research has shown that high-achieving school districts have families who access grade portals most often. These districts also report higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress among their student body. We would be wise to look at how some districts have intervened to curtail this obsessive grade monitoring. For example:
Some districts limit the number of visits parents can make to the grade portal (i.e. once weekly).
Others allow grade portal access only one day per week
Administrations in other districts have implemented policies in which teachers post their grades once per week (or even every two weeks!)
There is no perfect solution. Grade portals serve a valuable purpose. They provide a temperature check for a student’s performance. Checking grades daily is too often. One could easily argue that every two weeks is too often. I encourage parents to have faith in the school and their teachers. If there are concerns about their performance or effort, teachers should be in contact with you. In providing your child with the breathing room to make their own mistakes and learn from them with the guidance of a professional, you are best preparing them for the fast-paced and always-evolving world we live in.
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