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Paul Wellman

Virtual Report Cards: Good or Bad?

Parents Get Grades Instantly


When Gayle Eidelson picks up her cell phone, a screen shot of her daughter’s EDU 2.0 page pops up: all As. Eidelson has seven kids — and is a school boardmember — so she has seen quite a few report cards. In the old days, they were delivered once a quarter. A good one might get taped to the fridge.

But like most things nowadays, report cards are virtual — and constantly updated. The Santa Barbara Unified School District started using a program known as EDU 2.0 about a year ago. The interface almost looks like Facebook, and teachers and students can post info and communicate via message boards. Teachers use it for uploading assignments, inputting grades, and giving quizzes, among other features. Students — as well as parents — have an account and are expected to log in often. This constant feedback is supposed to improve student performance, but it also can create unnecessary anxiety and could contribute to a new generation of students who are less independent than previous ones.

“Sometimes it almost feels like a video game,” said La Colina Junior High School parent Gisela Kommerell, worrying that students who become obsessed with grades may hinder their ability to understand and process material, creating an “instant gratification” or “instant punishment” effect. It’s sort of like stepping on the scale every day.

School administrators maintain EDU 2.0 translates into student success because it increases parent involvement — just another tool in the toolbox. Also, it holds students accountable. “The dog ate my homework” no longer flies. “I do think that it would be tough being a kid today because your parents can find out exactly how you’re doing anytime,” said Todd Ryckman, the school district’s chief education technology officer. “But I think that’s a good thing.”

Teachers are now expected to give progress reports for all students, whether or not they are in danger of failing. The good news is that kids no longer are stigmatized by having to carry around a “progress report” if they have Ds and Fs. It was fairly obvious and embarrassing. But entering grades on new software is also more work for teachers, who already have had a lot on their plate just to keep up with the changing seas surging from the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The new standards rolled out in Santa Barbara a couple of years ago and have sought to alter the classroom dynamic, allowing students to spend more time on fewer topics while forcing them to figure out things themselves.

Students struggling with grades are probably the ones who can benefit most from the program. At La Cuesta Continuation High School, which started using EDU 2.0 last January, the program offers a way for students who are deficient on credits to stay on top of their work. Because La Cuesta was one of the four schools to participate in the district’s iPad pilot program, Principal Frann Wageneck said her teachers have really expanded their use of EDU 2.0, sending messages, posting weekly bulletins, and helping students to monitor their progress — all while going paperless.

Parents can create their own account, but some might be logging in too often, feeding the “helicopter parent syndrome.” Lisa Przekop, UCSB director of admissions, noted that freshmen entering college seem to be much less independent than they used to be. More and more, university professors get calls and emails from parents.

Przekop is also a mother of two. Her kids attended Bishop and Dos Pueblos high schools. She began logging in regularly and then would nag her son about a missing assignment. “I stopped using it entirely,” said Przekop, explaining it created unproductive tension in her household. “I found it more valuable to have those conversations over dinner.”

Online portals are intended to increase communications between teachers, students, and parents. But going virtual may reduce conversations about school and direct attention online. “It’s like any tool. It can be misused,” said Przekop. “It’s probably more effective to ask their child as opposed to checking online.”

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