I’ve punched in the code and now my finger hovers warily over the enter key. Going into any portal typically implies the potential for danger. The Parent Grade Portal in our town school system is no exception.
With trepidation, I finally do it. I enter the site for an unedited view of my 17-year-old son’s academic life. There’s the A on a recent Spanish project, a B on yesterday’s chemistry homework, and, oh look, there’s a C- on last week’s math test that he assured me went well.
In fact, there’s every grade laid out for my scrutiny, whether I want to see it or not.
My son mostly does well in school, so it’s not as though I dread failure. But just as a Facebook “like” supposedly causes a dopamine reaction that makes you crave more, the C- on the math test is the opposite of that. I’d rather leave the portal and not return for a while.
Here’s the thing. That C-isn’t devastating, but it is a downer in the middle of my day. And it makes me worry about my kid. Does he understand math? Should I hire a tutor?
Furthermore, information is power, and the academic insights offered by the portal give me power that I don’t know how to use. Should I punish my son for a low grade because he spent much of the weekend playing soccer when he probably should have been studying? Does the bad grade matter in the end or does it—fingers’ crossed—get diluted by Bs and As?
And why do I care this much? I got C’s in math in high school. It’s one of the reasons I became a writer.
Even a string of A’s is strange. There’s that desired dopamine reaction, but why should I focus so hard on this one narrow aspect of my child? Are we not already too obsessed about college competition and how our kids are measuring up? Is this how we parents should be getting our dopamine hits on any regular basis?
I can watch these fluctuating stats the way some people follow their favorite sports team—the highs, the lows, the hopes—only to discover I have shockingly little influence on the final outcome.
The school offers no help around this. On parent night, in practically the same breath that the principal tells us not to hover but rather let our high school students develop independence, he cheerfully encourages us to check the grade portal regularly. He calls it an “excellent tool” that parents can use to stay connected to their children’s school experience. He never mentions the anxiety this causes us or our children, or the fact that it is not healthy to know every grade, every day.
I want to raise my hand and ask the principal to post a warning on the enter screen: Beware! Uncharted waters ahead!
While my son’s inclination is to periodically check his grades for good measure or because we tell him to, my daughter, who is at a private high school, has a more stressful relationship with the portal. I only found out recently that she went in multiple times a day in 7th grade and would then ride the roller coaster of emotions that an A–or a not A–could bring.
“A lot of kids check it obsessively,” she tells me. “And then they freak out if they don’t get do well.”
“Does that seem unhealthy?” I ask.
“Yeah, it’s unhealthy,” she says.
So suddenly this supposedly excellent tool becomes yet another source of anxiety for a growing population of already anxious kids. I mean is it really a good idea to give them minute-to-minute access to information that can freak them out and breed more competition? The fact that grammar school children have portals, too, means the groundwork for grade frenzy is in place when students are five.
Three decades ago I used loose math to predict the outcome of a school term. It worked. I did well without the worry of “Am I measuring up?” I am horrified to think what my school life would have been like with regular access to my teacher’s grade book. Would I have done much better? Probably not. Would I have been a stressed-out mess as I stalked my portal daily? Almost certainly.
Perhaps young people today develop immunity to this information glut, but I don’t think so. And I know the parents don’t.
One friend whose daughter has academic challenges said her least favorite part of the week is checking the portal. “It makes me feel sick to my stomach,” she said.
I have other friends who never check it; they just don’t want to know.
An informal poll of teachers tells me that some like the portal because it offers transparency. One told me, “A student can follow his grades through the term and know exactly where they stand in the class. No surprises at the end of the semester.”
For other teachers there is indifference, and even dislike. One high school English teacher I spoke with thinks the portal narrows our view of the student. He notes that some kids are engaged in class but just don’t test well. And the portal doesn’t reflect that, except in the occasional participation grade or comment that a teacher can click on from a pull-down screen: A pleasure to have in class.
In the end, my kids have to own their school experiences and learn independence. In that way the principal is right. But please don’t tell me not to hover while giving me 24/7 access what is essentially a hovercraft.
It’s called the Parent Grade Portal, but I’m not the one who should be using it all the time. As a parent, my work is to raise my children well; give them tools to deal with challenges; encourage them to be engaged in their academics in a balanced way and ask for support when things aren’t going well.
In my opinion, the portal helps with little of that. As for a grade, I say C- at best.
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