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School grades just a click away Some districts give parents instant class updates online

Time was, students could slip in the occasional skipped class or bad test grade without any immediate fallout at home.

They could try to erase a phone message from the school left at home. They could intercept a progress report before it got to their parents.

Now, thanks to the Internet, some students don't have anywhere to hide.

That's because a growing number of local school districts are giving parents nearly instant access over the Web to grade and attendance information for their children.

"I don't know if we'll ever replace the report card on the refrigerator, but it's another way to communicate effectively with students and parents," said Peter Ciarelli, assistant superintendent for technology services with the Williamsville Central School District.

The amount of detail varies by district, but most tell parents about upcoming homework assignments and tests, post specific and cumulative grades and flag any missed classes.

"This information is now right at [parents'] fingertips. Right from home, from work, wherever they can get to the Internet," said Rosanne Huffcut, director of learning and management services with the Western New York Regional Information Center, part of Erie 1 BOCES.

Twelve districts in seven Western New York counties provide parental access through Internet-based networks supported by Erie 1 BOCES, said Huffcut, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services administrator. The earliest began in 2000.

"Next year at this time, I would expect it would be double," Huffcut said.

An unknown number of other districts -- including Williamsville -- have set up their own online parental access systems.

Some officials wonder if posting grades online puts too much pressure on students or provides fodder for parents who already are overly involved in their children's lives.

But experts say the practice will only grow more common here and nationally as school districts follow colleges, banks and phone companies in putting vast amounts of data online.

"We're strong believers in the Internet being the delivery system of the future," said Sweet Home Superintendent Geoffery Hicks.

The move to provide online access to student grades is part of a broader push by school districts over the past decade to save more and more information in electronic form.

"There's no hiding these days, either by the students or by the school district," said Ray Monahan, director of information services for the Jamestown School District, which opened its Parent Portal in fall 2006.

With much of this information now stored on Web-based platforms, some districts decided to give parents the chance to see it.

"I do feel it's a cyberextension of the PTA. You're getting more opportunities to get involved," said Timothy M. Osberg, a Niagara University psychology professor who has a clinical practice. Osberg has online access to his son's chemistry grades at Grand Island High School.

In Clarence, parents can access a list of upcoming homework assignments and tests, so they know when their child is supposed to be working on a report or studying for a test, said Stephen C. Ludwig, director of technology for the district.

The district has used the Parent Connect system for four years, now covering grades six through 10, Ludwig said.

"There are some parents who are on it every single day to monitor their child's progress, and it's very convenient for them," said Robert Michel, assistant principal at Clarence Middle School.

In Williamsville, about 70 percent of teachers in grades five through 12 put student information online, Ciarelli said.

Williamsville encourages teachers to add class notes and documents, links to helpful Web sites and even password-protected classroom forums on their Web sites.

Sweet Home started offering online access this fall, first to parents of high school students and then to parents of middle school students.

On the Sweet Home network, coaches can look at the grades of every student on their team and get advance warning if any player's eligibility is at risk.

Parents also can sign up for e-mail alerts instead of having to log on to their child's account to find updates, said Deborah Radice, Sweet Home's student software specialist.

In Sweet Home, the online accounts of 87 percent of the high school's 1,281 students have been accessed, and 63 percent of the 845 middle school student accounts have been looked up, Radice said.

"I was immediately impressed, and I didn't realize it was going to have as much information as it did," said Margaret Desiderio, a member of the Sweet Home Middle School PTA who has a son in sixth grade and a son in 10th grade at the high school.

School officials and parents say there's a value in giving parents real-time access to this data.

Parents don't have to wait for a parent-teacher conference, an interim progress report or a report card to find out how their children are performing.

"It really has revolutionized how we communicate between home and school. It's streamlined the process," said Joleen Reinholz, principal of Sweet Home High School.

However, many of the districts that have provided this online access -- or explored doing so -- have run into some concern from teachers, said Deborah Baker, vice president of the New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education.

"Teachers don't want to open their grade book," said Baker, also an assistant superintendent with the Brighton Central School District, outside Rochester.

That's because grades are granted a disproportionate importance in society and grading is an art that can vary from teacher to teacher, she said.

But does giving real-time access to grades put too much pressure on students?

School officials say the students feel a heightened sense of accountability, not pressure.

Many students use the chance to look up their grades as motivation and they say they appreciate the immediate feedback they get.

"There's no waiting a week, 'What are my grades? What's my average?' " said Andrea Finley, 16, a Sweet Home High School junior.

Some wonder if parents will take this to an extreme.

"I could see a parent being obsessed with it and checking it every day," said Desiderio, the Sweet Home parent, who nonetheless thinks most parents will use it constructively.


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