By Lisa A.Flam, Associated Press
Once upon a time, finding out how your child was doing in school could require weeks of patience. You waited for the parent-teacher conference, for a return phone call from school if you were concerned and, eventually, for a report card to land in the mailbox.
Now, a growing number of families can get instant access to grades and other school information through online “parent portals.’’
But just because a grade can be posted hours after a test, does that mean parents should rush to the portal and discuss the B minus with their child that evening?
How often should they check on grades, and what’s the best way to handle the real-time academic updates?
“My suggestion is for parents to not make themselves crazy checking every day,’’ said Nancy Hill, a developmental psychologist and education professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“Too much information can make a parent overbearing rather than facilitating their student’s sense of autonomy’’ and planning, she added. “It’s how parents use the information that becomes essential.’’
Parents should start by checking the portals once a week (more if a child is struggling) and see how it goes, advises Hill, who studies parental involvement in education during adolescence.
“But not on Friday,’’ she said. You don’t want “to brood over it over the weekend.’’
Parent portals, which let schools securely post information on attendance, class schedules, report cards and even lunch menus, along with grades, have gone into use in school systems around the country over the last decade, experts say.
Hill says the portals can be empowering, especially for parents of adolescents. Parents can monitor kids’ progress behind the scenes, and not always have to ask to see the graded papers and tests.
“They can see it and know how their children are doing and give space for independence and autonomy that the middle schoolers really crave,’’ she said.
Some parents check the portals every day; others never sign up at all.
Neil Shapiro, a father of two from Marlboro, New Jersey, describes himself as “a very vigilant checker,’’ who logged on at least once a day last school year when his son was a high school senior and his daughter in eighth grade.
“They think it’s ridiculous,’’ he said of his children, both high-achievers. “They think I’m nuts.’’
But using the portals meant that he and his wife could provide support when they felt their kids needed it, and before it was too late.
“You can nip things in the bud,’’ Shapiro said. “I don’t want to find out my son or daughter missed three homework assignments at the end of the marking period. I want to find out why they missed the homework now’’ and what to do about it.
He believes his kids were motivated to do well because they knew he was checking, but he tried to avoid using the information to stress them out.
“It’s definitely a balance,’’ he said, adding that “you have to pick and choose how and when you confront your children about it.’’
Juliet Babros of Los Angeles logs into the portals much less frequently to check on her daughters, who enter ninth and 11th grade this fall. She encourages them to try to improve their grades by, for example, asking to retake a test if they didn’t score well.
“I consider my approach balanced because I’m not constantly checking daily or even weekly, but more sporadically or when I suspect there might be an issue, or if they don’t seem to be managing their time well,’’ said Babros.
“As my kids have gotten older, they don’t always want to talk about assignments and test grades,’’ she said. “The parent portal gives me a glimpse into what’s going on in school without me having to bug them.’’
Hill advises parents to do nothing if they see their child is doing fine. The portals, she said, allow for both celebrations and course corrections.
“If the child did better than expected, say, `Hey I think you did really well. You worked hard. Tell me more about what worked for you,’’’ she said.
“If they’re not doing well or had a poor grade, I wouldn’t blow it out of proportion or change your weekend plans,’’ Hill said. “I would ask them what happened and give them space to explain themselves, and then ask them what their plan is and if they need help.’’
Don’t take every grade too seriously.
“Understand that a poor grade early on doesn’t define them,’’ Hill said. “It gives them an opportunity to see how they can improve.’’
Cory Notestine, a school counseling facilitator in Colorado Springs, Colorado, also suggests that parents check on grades about once a week, noting that frequent checking and negative comments could strain the parent-child relationship.
“Over time,’’ he said, “what we want for children to do is take ownership of their education, with support from parents.’’