My introductory email to parents says, “If your child is struggling or missing assignments, I will let you know right away.” And I do. I email an average of 7 to 10 parents a day (of my 72 sixth graders) to let them know their kid won a Kahoot, aced a test, was missing their homework, or needs more practice identifying narrative point of view.
And yet, in May, when these parents have known me for 10 months, I still occasionally get That Email.
“I’ve checked Google Classroom and she’s missing two assignments. Why haven’t you emailed me?”
Um, because she turned them in on paper?
“Have you put in the quiz grade from yesterday? How will that impact his grade?”
It won’t. It was a pretest.
Online grade books were supposed to increase engagement and accountability, but that’s not exactly what happened.
A recent article from The Cut examined how grade monitoring has impacted students, teachers, and parents. It’s not a pretty picture.
The online grade book isn’t always accurate.
Many platforms will flag an assignment as missing if it hasn’t been graded yet. So when little Isaiah’s mother cancels his birthday party because of “missing” homework that Ms. Jackson hasn’t had time to grade yet, things get dicey.
The format also assumes that you’re grading every assignment immediately. Let your grading pile up and input three assignments over the weekend? Get ready for the angry emails about kids’ fluctuating averages.
Grade monitoring puts pressure on families and relationships.
I’m a teacher, too. I hear you; some kids could stand to have a little more pressure when it comes to doing their work. But ask yourself: Are those the kids whose parents are logging in to the grade book app every day?
What seems a lot more likely is that this will be an added stress for the kids who are already under a lot of academic pressure, as well as a way to pass the buck when kids are floundering. Lots of missing assignments often means a kid lacks executive-functioning skills. And you know that saying about the apple and the tree? Expecting struggling kids and their caregivers to check grades regularly might be a tall order, especially kids facing economic insecurity. Unfortunately, the kid without regular internet access has a hard time both doing the homework and—you guessed it—checking the grade book app.
Online grade books encourage helicopter parenting and undermine kids’ autonomy.
This is the big one for me. Kids in middle and high school need to gradually take responsibility for their own learning. They need to know when assignments are due, what’s missing, and what they need to study. When caregivers get notifications every time an assignment is 15 minutes overdue, kids don’t have a chance to make mistakes, learn from them, and become more responsible. That’s when we have parents showing up at professors’ office hours and their kids’ job interviews … they don’t know how to stop monitoring their child’s progress.
I know that not all kids are ready to track and take responsibility for their grades in middle or even high school. But this is why we have IEPs and 504s, and also why we have teachers. We know which kids need extra reminders and support, and a personal email is way more effective than push notifications from an app the parents have possibly never downloaded.
But my system makes me use the stupid online grade book! What do I do?
Like literally every other part of teaching, relationships and boundaries are key. Consistently providing updates for kids who are struggling will cue (most) caregivers that they can trust you to keep them in the loop. Then you can gradually transfer responsibility to your students.
At the beginning of the year, I check my sixth graders’ assignments the day they’re turned in and email every kid and their adults if it’s missing. By January, the kids have a week to turn it in before I email home … but they still lose points for late work. I communicate that change and my reasoning to parents before we make the shift, and I usually have a few kids who still need daily reminders for missing work.
The other strategy that seems to help is having a specific day to enter grades and communicating that to caregivers. I’d pick Monday—that gives you the weekend to catch up if you need it. If you tell adults you’ll update grades every Monday (and let them know if there’s a delay), then at least you limit Those Emails to a couple of days per week.
Keeping grades transparent and accessible sounds great, but it shouldn’t take over the lives of students, parents, or teachers.