How'd You Do In School Today?

Montgomery County high school senior Laura Iriarte Miguel is no fan of Edline, which records her grades and attendance in every subject.
Montgomery County high school senior Laura Iriarte Miguel is no fan of Edline, which records her grades and attendance in every subject. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 30, 2007

At the beginning of this semester, Laura Iriarte Miguel switched anatomy classes.

No big deal. Students at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg can shift courses around at the start of each term. But when Iriarte Miguel remained on the roll in the wrong class for several days, her parents began receiving notices from Edline -- an online, up-to-the-sec grade-tracking program used in Montgomery County middle and high schools -- about her unexcused absences and zeros on quizzes.

Finally, one night at dinner, in between bites of spaghetti, her parents grilled her about her truancy and her rotten anatomy grades. She hadn't told them she had opted into another class.

"They wanted to know why-why-why-why," Iriarte Miguel says. She set them straight, but the air was still poisoned. The suspicion, she says, "accumulated in the back of their minds during the whole day."

This could be a simple story of parental expectations and teenage lackadaisicalness. But it's also a tale of an innovation at the nexus of a morphing world -- symbolic of the changing nature of childhood, America's abiding faith in education and the unforgiving quality of technology.

* * *

Growing up isn't what it used to be. Time was, parents set boundaries, children tested them. There was always a question of how much parents should know and how much kids should tell them. School was often a black box to parents. Mom and Dad dropped their kids off in the morning and had nearly zero understanding of precisely what went on during the day.

High school in particular has been a time of experimentation, says Ellen deLara, an adolescence specialist at Syracuse University. "People are inventing themselves, trying out different ways of being in the world, trying different faces."

Now along comes Edline to help erase the illusion -- and reality -- that school is separate from the parental world. That separation, deLara says, "is a buffer that's actually critical for healthy adolescent development."

Constant monitoring -- the equivalent of a nanny cam trained on teenagers -- "doesn't allow for confabulation," she adds. Nor does it provide "space for thinking about how to present bad news to parents. Instead, parents can jump to conclusions, and essentially, try and convict their teens, all before hearing from them."

The result is double-edged: Edline -- and other programs like it, such as SchoolFusion and School Center -- provide students, teachers and parents with an online meeting place to discuss day-to-day assignments, tests and grades. But it also enables parents to keep track of a kid's academic progress -- or lack of progress -- in a heretofore unthinkably micromanagerial way. Parents can know everything; children have no wiggle room. Gone is the fudge factor, the white lie. A student makes a D on a quiz, a D shows up on Edline. No matter that a student leads a discussion in class or puts forth a cogent point. Or has the possibility to retake the quiz, make up the poor grade or do extra credit work over the weekend.

This swift knowledge of success or failure can drive a wedge into families.

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