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Online Grades Provide Access and Accountability


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In schools from Pennsylvania to New Mexico, student grades are just a click away. Teachers use online grading systems to keep parents (and kids) informed about what students are doing in class and how well they are doing it. Administrators say the improved communication makes students more accountable for their work and eliminates unwelcome "surprises" on report cards. Included: Getting-started advice from schools with online grading systems.

"Implementing an online gradebook program has been one of the best steps we have taken as a school to improve home-school communication and enhance student learning," says Debbie Hamilton. "We would never be able to do without it."

At Eisenhower Middle School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Hamilton is principal, most parents check their children's grades regularly, and some even check them several times per day. Using the program GradeBookWizard, teachers at the school can record and track student scores and grades. They can even choose to automatically email parents when an assignment is not turned in, giving parents the opportunity to communicate with their children about missed work immediately.

"The feedback we have received indicates that over 90 percent of our parents love the program," Hamilton told Education World. "The biggest negative has been when their children move on to high school where the program is not available!"

QUICK AND CONFIDENTIAL GRADING

Eisenhower Middle School started using an online gradebook program school-wide during the 2003-2004 school year to improve communication with families. Parents were very appreciative of the efforts of teachers to learn the program and keep them informed about their children's academic progress. The program used by the school was not available after that first year, so a few staff members investigated online programs and discovered GradeBookWizard. It was unanimously adopted by the instructional council for the next school year.


Getting Started
With Online Grades

When Debbie Hamilton's school first implemented GradeBookWizard, it took the wise step of having a representative from the company available to work directly with teachers to help them learn how to use it.

"Additionally, having our webmaster be our onsite GradeBookWizard expert has been a tremendous asset," said Hamilton. "New teachers spend a little bit of time with him before school starts so they are ready to go on the first day of school. He is also available to troubleshoot and communicate with GradeBookWizard if a problem arises."

"We felt the security features were more than adequate to ensure protection of the confidential information provided to parents and students and the features available would be welcomed by all of our teachers -- from the most tech-savvy to the most reluctant user," reported Hamilton.

The support of the company when questions arise is cited by Hamilton as one of GradeBookWizard's greatest strengths. The concerns of staff members have been dealt with quickly, usually within 24 hours, and the school's specific needs have been incorporated into the program it uses. Password protection for parents and students has protected student grades and information from non-authorized users. To Hamilton's knowledge, the security of the system has never been breeched at Eisenhower.

"The ability for teachers to use a wide variety of options in the program has also been a strength," Hamilton explained. "While teachers are only required to post grades online once a week, many of our staff members take advantage of the opportunities to post announcements, lesson plans, class notes"

INFORMED AND ACCOUNTABLE STUDENTS

Publishing grades online has eliminated the need for regular progress reports to be mailed to students' homes. Many teachers previously sent weekly or monthly progress reports to parents. Today Eisenhower Middle School saves the paper required to print those reports because parents can check their children's grades at any time from any computer. Most families have access to a computer at home or in the workplace, but printed reports are provided for those who do not.

"Our students regularly check their own grades, as well," observed Hamilton. "There are no surprises at the end of the quarter or semester. Our webmaster monitors the hits to the site and has calculated that parents, students, and teachers average 500 hits a day. In fact, using his own classes for some data collection, he determined that there is a 400 percent greater chance of a student receiving a deficiency notice if he or she has not checked GradeBookWizard."

Another plus to the student and parent monitoring of grades is that grading errors can be corrected immediately. The school communicates clearly with the parents that teachers are only required to post grades once each week, so scores from a test taken by students on Tuesday may not be posted until the following Monday.

"Teachers find it most beneficial to let parents know when projects -- which, of course, take longer to grade -- will be posted," Hamilton stated. "The accountability for teachers and their grading practices is certainly higher, but Eisenhower teachers welcome the scrutiny given to student grades as a result."

ONLINE GRADING "MAKES THE GRADE"

"At the onset, there was some reluctance to embrace this new approach to keeping grades," Timothy Gildea recalled. "Some teachers did not trust the system, which led to a duplication of work by keeping a paper grade book along with the online grading system. As they became more confident, they gave up their paper copies and used the system as their only record of grades."

In Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, Gildea and his staff at Charles W. Longer Elementary School have published grades online for five years, the last four of those years with LetterGrade. (The district is currently using ProgressBook.)

"This program is easy for teachers to use," said Gildea. "It provides constant access for teachers, the students, and their parents. It updates in real time, and parents can view all of their children's grades with one login password. Our experiences with security so far have been very positive."

According to Gildea, convenient access to grades has made students more accountable for their schoolwork and enhanced relations between home and school. Students and parents can not only look over scores but view due dates for upcoming assignments. Access to the grades of all students helps Gildea, as an administrator, and the school's guidance counselors to better identify and support struggling learners.

"We are using this system to explore different applications -- such as posting class assignments and lesson plans -- that will tie directly into our state standards and the district curriculum," reported Gildea. "With that information, teachers can see a record that will tell them if they have addressed all of the objectives in our curriculum and the standards. We continue to be amazed with what this program can do."

Like Eisenhower Middle School, Longer Elementary has found that some students and parents anticipate that grades will be posted immediately after a test is taken. As they become more aware of the procedure that teachers follow to submit grades, which occurs at least once per week, they learn to expect a specific amount of "turnaround time" and become more comfortable with the system.

New teachers jump into the LetterGrade system with no difficulty, says Gildea. Several staff members are exploring other tools within the system that will help them design lesson plans and identify areas that require re-teaching.

"Many parents begin asking for their passwords before the start of the school year," said Gildea. "Not everyone uses the system, but those who do have provided lots of positive feedback. As I look at the primary value of this online grading program, it lies in the relationship between school and parents. By opening up the gradebook for all parents, it has supported the idea that we are partners in the education of their child. This partnership is necessary if we are going to create the best learning environment possible."

Gildea recommends using any new online grading program with a pilot group first to work out problems. Then implement the system in phases, and provide plenty of training for teachers as well as ongoing support. Longer Elementary's teachers attend workshops each summer that address various elements of the LetterGrade system.

"Teachers must know that any problems they find will be addressed promptly," added Gildea. "They must be confident that the program will work correctly for them when they are ready to do the work."

Online Gradebooks

In addition to the programs mentioned in this article, many other online gradebooks are available. Some are free for teachers and others require a monthly fee. Check out the links below to learn more about some gradebooks unique features.

  • Engrade Online Gradebook
  • MyGradeBook.com
  • TeacherEase
  • Thinkwave
  • TrackMyGrades.com
  • Article by Cara Bafile
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2009 Education World

    Originally published 11/10/2006
    Last updated 12/01/2009



     

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