Q: My wife checks our children’s grades online constantly. She says this helps her to help them do well in school, but it only seems to stress her out every time they get a low grade. I think it was better when we used to just see the report cards every few weeks. What do teachers think about it?
Students have always been given their graded papers to take home, but this was usually on a weekly or more infrequent basis. By the time kids reach middle school, parents often didn’t see most of the work, waiting instead for the report cards and progress reports.
But in the digital age, parents now have access to online portals where they can check their children’s grades in real time, as the teacher enters them. Many parents even get push alerts that notify them of every grade update. Sounds good, but is it? Let’s examine the pros and cons.
One inarguable point is that parents and students have the right to know their grades. Having the capability to provide grades in real time and not doing so would be like arbitrarily holding back someone’s paycheck stub.
Some argue that it helps students do better in school. When parents get daily grades, they can make sure their kids are staying on top of things. Any fall off would have immediate consequences for the student.
It’s true that it has helped some students improve their scores. In the last eight years or so since I’ve used the system, I’ve seen a lot of low-90s students now scoring in the high-90s, for whatever that’s worth.
And, yes, some students who used to skate by until just before the report card (or right after the progress report) now can’t do so. But the kids who didn’t care about grades before still don’t much care. The same is true of parents. So it hasn’t moved the needle as much as you’d think.
There are negatives. Many times a teacher can enter a grade and before she can close the program, a parent will email asking what Johnny can do to bring up his grade or what he did wrong on that project because he worked so hard or sorry he had a lacrosse game and he didn’t get to study and could he take it again, etc. Each query must be answered and that takes time that many teachers simply don’t have. (And anyway, shouldn’t these questions all be coming from Johnny?)
But if that were the only drawback, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. Teachers will make just about any sacrifice to help their students learn. Unfortunately there can be far bigger repercussions.
We’ve seen the numbers of kids diagnosed with anxiety skyrocket over the last several years. Anxiety disorders now afflict as much as 25% of adolescents. The reasons are many, but for some students, real-time grading is an accelerant.
The reality is that many parents are constantly watching and monitoring with a perhaps-unhealthy obsessiveness. They are less like concerned parents and more like investors in the stock market who are continually checking the ups and downs.
Kids often absorb the general anxieties of adults and these tend to have an outsized impact on their psyches. If a low grade stresses out Mom, it will also stress out the kids. Parents who constantly demonstrate a surveillance-like attitude toward grades − even when they are not outright pressuring their students to improve − can impose an anxiety on their children that might be good for their Honor Roll prospects, but horrible for their mental health. This is especially true for kids who already possess a strong inner-pressure to succeed or who grapple with perfectionism.
Before parent portals, students had an opportunity to self-correct their mishaps. If I failed an algebra test, I knew I could get it fixed before the report card by buckling down. Most kids do fairly well at managing their self-imposed pressures under these circumstances. Of course if I didn’t self-correct and the report card said “F,” there was going to be trouble.
Now students have no such problem-solving opportunity. With parents continually scrutinizing their grades, the pressure kids feel to achieve is relentless, it is external and it is difficult to manage for their underdeveloped minds. I see it every day. For a glimpse of what it’s like, try to imagine a high-stakes sales job where your boss listened in on every call, read every email and critiqued every contact as they occurred. You might become a better salesperson, but you’d also be a nervous wreck.
Real-time grading is hardly an isolated concern. It is a sign of the times. Everything in our lives now is second by second. We’ve always been addicted to news, but we used to read the daily paper and then have time to think about it, talk about it and process it. Now our reactions are often just raw emotional reflexes punctuated by a continual stream of headlines.
Our parenting is slouching in that same dark direction. You are cautioned to adjust accordingly.