My daughter, Mackenzie, started middle school this fall. The transition to a new school has meant many changes for her and for me. In middle school, Mackenzie has a locker with a combination to remember, she switches classes multiple times and for the first time she is receiving grades.
Like many districts our school uses Skyward, an online grade book to post student progress. In theory, the online grade book allows for improved communication between school and home. Parents and students can check their progress in a course on a regular basis. They can monitor which classes and assignments students mastered and which they found a struggle. But in reality, instant access to the grade book can cause parents and students to become obsessed with grades and lose focus of the learning. Monitoring a child's progress can quite quickly turn into an addiction and many parents find themselves stalking the grade book. I know how easily this can become an addiction, because it happened to me.
It started innocently enough. About two weeks into the school year, my neighbor, who also has a daughter starting middle school, commented on how great it was to check her daughters grades on her phone. I scoffed at her thinking out loud what kind of "grades" could the girls possibly have only 8 days into the school year? And I warned her of the dangers of consistently checking; the least of which was the teachers could see the number of times parents check. These grade book stalkers have been the topic de-jour at many a faculty lunch.
pleasantly surprised to see she was getting mostly A's and A-, except for math which was a B. I was able to see online that she had done poorly on a quiz, but could do test corrections. I went to my daughter immediately to discuss her math. She worked on the test corrections and two days later her grade bounced up to a B+. Score one for the grade book; it was both a communication tool and parenting resource.
Watching her grade go up sparked my addiction. It was like a secret portal into her classroom. Logically, I knew I shouldn't keep checking, but emotionally I couldn't stop. Soon I went from checking her grades each week, to checking every couple days to checking every day. The checking the grade book itself wasn't so bad; it was the rush I got from seeing the grades rise and the panic I felt each time a grade went down that became unhealthy. I started to obsess about the grades and I lost focus on the learning.
This is the same kind of obsession I see in some of my high school students. They check their grades 6 or 7 times a day. Several have even confessed to not being able to sleep until they are sure they have all A's. Perhaps this constant grade checking is really an extension of our society's constant need for information. The fear of missing out, or FOMO, has been identified as one of the dangers for smart technology and social media.
In my own life, I realized my constant grade checking was really a way to affirm my parenting skills and confirm that I wasn't missing something. Step one of curing my addiction was admitting I had a problem. The big problem is if this is the only tool parents use to help students academically, they are completely missing something. They are missing the opportunity talk with their child, not just about an assignment or a test but, about the learning.
As a 5th grader, my daughter's grades are a reflection of her learning but they don't tell the whole story - she does.