Academic journal article School Community Journal

Stripping the Wizard's Curtain: Examining the Practice of Online Grade Booking in K-12 Schools

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Stripping the Wizard's Curtain: Examining the Practice of Online Grade Booking in K-12 Schools

Article excerpt


In recent years, online grade books (OGBs), accessible not only to teachers and to school administrators but also to students and parents, have provided all members of school communities with transparent and accessible information about students' progress (Note: The words parent/parents are used throughout to refer to adults raising a student, to match the federal definition of parent involvement-this includes grandparents, legal guardians, and others; OGBs = parent portals/student information systems). The widespread use of OGBs has been bolstered by (1) the No Child Left Behind Act's (NCLB, 2002) inaugural definition of parent involvement-the first to exist in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act-as "the participation of parents in regular, two-way, and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities" (Title I, Section 1118); and (2) the requirement that school districts applying for Title II funds must have in place a process for effective use of technology to promote parent involvement and increase home-school communication (Title II, Part D, Section 2414.b.9). OGBs are now the norm for recording and transmitting grades in the United States' K-12 schools (Gartner, Inc., 2011; McKenna, 2016). Surprisingly, no prior comprehensive study of the impact of OGBs on the relationships between home and school, nor on participants' personal experiences with OGBs, has been conducted.

Public media coverage of OGB use and impact on students, teachers, and parents noticeably increased beginning with the 2006-07 school year (Bird, 2006; Dawson, 2007; Edutopia, 2007; Lacina, 2006; Torres, 2007; Villano, 2008; Weeks, 2007), concurrent with the entrance of NCLB kindergarteners into middle school. Thus, the first students whose entire secondary school experience (Grades 6-12) involved online grade booking are now available to inform the field. Through the OGB, parents may check on their child's grades, assignments, and attendance without directly communicating with their child or their child's teacher. Students check this information without directly communicating with their teachers, as well.

Similar to other educational software, the way in which online grade books are designed affects the kinds of experiences students and teachers have (Lynch, 2011). However, parents are now an additional participant in the technology experience, drawn into online educational software use through the online grade book. Computer scientist Jaron Lanier, in his work describing the impact of technology on society, cautions life must not be "turned into a database" (Lanier, 2010, p. 69). We propose here that, in several ways, the online grade book is a database-centered construct that appears to have changed communication between students, parents, and teachers, particularly at the secondary school level, and deserves careful attention. Most prior studies of OGB use have concentrated on its effects on student achievement. No systematic review or theoretical analysis of the effects of these systems on relationships between the partners involved-students, teachers, and parents-has been reported to date in the literature. The purpose of this article is to provide such review and to identify theoretical underpinnings of OGBs through thematic analysis of participants' online comments in mass media, in order to create a conceptual framework that can guide the use of and the future research on these systems that affect the home-school partnership.

Review of the Literature

Historical Background

While school systems' use of computer technology to track student data began in earnest in the 1970s (Hafner, 1992), teachers' use of computers to record and process their students' daily grades gained momentum in the early 1980s. Teachers often used financial or statistical spreadsheet programs prior to the later development of the first DOS (disk operating system)-based grade book application in 1987 (Excelsior Software, 2008; Vockell & Kopenec, 1989). …

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