lf you have a child in middle or high school, you’re probably familiar with online grade books: Those instant-access tools that offer students and parents immediate updates on grades and even upcoming assignments and assessments. And while their intent is a positive one — to offer stakeholders access to as much information as possible to ensure student success — mental health experts warn that the actual impact of that access could be placing unnecessary strain on students, families, and educators.
According to KQED, Steven Adelsheim, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, states:
When our focus is always on being successful and getting the A, we’re not allowing necessarily the room for creativity in the room to attempt things.
There’s already a great deal of pressure that [students are] feeling on their own and from their friends, and this potentially adds to it. It creates both stress and anxiety.
While my own children are not quite old enough to be heavily immersed in the world of online grade reporting, as a high school teacher myself, I see the damaging effects of them daily.
The program my employer uses keeps track of how many times individual student and parent accounts log into the system, for one, and the resulting figures are horrifying.
In a single week, I have seen log-in numbers in the thousands for individual accounts. And it’s not just one or two students and their parents I’m talking about here. It’s dozens. And while the other accounts may not be racking up such high log-in numbers, they’re still firmly in unhealthy territory, with most student accounts accessing the system hundreds of times per week. PER WEEK.
Furthermore, as a teacher, I can’t even enter an upcoming assignment or update grades without instant contact from students and parents. We’re talking emails or — worse, and yes, this is true — students signing out of OTHER CLASSES, missing out on instruction, and coming down to my classroom to ask about a grade minutes and sometimes even SECONDS after it’s been saved.
Perhaps less impactful on students, but most certainly one of my greatest sources of stress as an educator, is the license students and parents seem to think they have over dictating how I keep my records given their 24/7 access to them. People contact me regularly to request, suggest, and even demand I change my process to fit their own desires. And while my administration has initiated several rules about how often teachers must update their grade books and how long they have to enter a grade after an assignment has been collected in order to minimize complaints and create uniformity across classes — all of which I follow as closely as possible, even when 2 weeks to grade 100 essays is an unreasonable request — the barrage of demands continues.
Nobody peers into any other professional’s record-keeping and feels entitled to tell them how to run their business or spies on their friend’s finances and demands they keep their checkbook a certain way, so why we allow this to happen in schools is beyond me.
The pressure and added hassles that online grade books put on teachers, though, are secondary to the toll they are taking on our kids and families.
Our children are already growing up in a constantly connected world and spending far too much time on screens as it is. Couple that with never-ending access to grades and obsessive compulsions to check them, and we’re looking at always-on, never-abating stress, both for kids and their parents.
Families need time together to relax, to enjoy one another’s company, and to talk about and do things that are not school-related. And students need time to rest, regroup, and indulge in extracurricular activities. As it stands, those things are happening for fewer and fewer students and their families.
And the result is a generation of children suffering from a mental health crisis.
If it were my child and me (and it will be very soon), I would make it a point to check those grade books once or twice per month max — replacing it with genuine face-to-face communication instead — and I would see to it that my child did the same.
And while we’re at it, if I could have my way, I’d go back to the old-school, spiraled paper record books and get rid of this archaic letter-based grading system we’ve been using for hundreds of years as well.
In the absence of being able to make those things happen, I’ll simply encourage every online grade book user to employ heavy moderation when it comes to accessing grade information.
That goes for both students and parents alike.