My estimable teacher-blogger colleague, Ms. Bluebird, is sputtering about the parent-accessible online grading system in her district. She bemoans the fact that parents aren't tracking their children's assignments and grades, even though it's now become totally convenient to (as the kiddies say) creep on their progeny. Evidently, this is an issue of deep concern to lots of teachers, as Ms. B's first 13 commenters enthusiastically jump on the "parents just don't care" bandwagon.
Bluebird totally rocks--but on this issue, I disagree. When it comes to online
gradebooks, I believe what's happening here is a misguided faith in the magic of
technology to solve problems (even things we didn't realize were problems beforehand).
If parents weren't allowed to peek into teachers' gradebooks twenty years ago, what
makes us think they're interested now? And furthermore--is it even a good idea
to nurture grade-stalking in parents?
Points to consider:
- Expecting parents to track their children's grades--and do something about low grades or missing assignments--shifts responsibility for learning and monitoring the grade to parents. And guess what? It's the student's job to do that, not Mommy's.
- When parents are suddenly hawking their gradebooks, teachers feel compelled to put lots of numbers in the book, proving that they're organized and soldiering away, assigning lots of homework and giving lots of grades. My principal sent us a memo suggesting that we add at least one new grade per week, it being worrisome when parents see that several days have gone by with no grading.
- Some of those grades represent formative assessment: constructive feedback to students in the process of learning to master a concept or skill. Formative assessment is supposed to be non-punitive--information that helps a student improve. If curriculum is appropriate--in the sweet spot where it challenges, but builds on prior learning--then formative assessment will show lots of room for growth. Try explaining that to one panicked parent at a time
everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be
counted. (Einstein said that, not me.) An online gradebook converts all
assessment data to numbers. Because it's...digital. Sometimes, kids need
coaching or commentary, not a comparative percentage. Sometimes, it's OK to
paint a pumpkin, just to see how it turns out. You don't have to grade
everything, to make it real or valuable.
I find my district's online grading program so inflexible as to be nearly useless. I collected lots of valid assessment data on my students that could not be represented in the gradebook program (the program routinely converted a memorized D-flat major scale into 60%). I never checked on my son's grades, either, although it would have been extremely easy to do so--and, trust me, I am a caring parent, with a deep commitment to his education. I got his report card, and I went to parent-teacher conferences. And that--really--was enough.
Image: Snelly23 @ Flickr Creative Commons