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Some students and parents are 'hyperchecking' grades. Why that could be a problem

Report cards aren’t what they once were. Instead of a printed piece of paper once a semester sent home for a parent signature, most schools today use what’s called an online gradebook.

PowerSchool, Engrade, LearnBoost and others all let students — and parents — access grades on assignments pretty much in real time. 

New York Times opinion writer Jessica Grose, who,  in a recent piece, examined how overwhelming this kind of grading system can be, and how — for a certain subset of students and parents — it’s taking away from actually learning in school. The Show spoke with Grose about it.

Conversation highlights

What I heard from many, many people is that there are 10%, maybe, of parents and students who the sociological literature calls "hypercheckers." And so they are just checking the grades all the time. They are extremely anxious about the performance. They are often not really paying attention to learning anything anymore. They're just so worried about the grade, the grade point average, that they're really wound up about it.

Let's talk first about the teachers, this idea that they are kind of overwhelmed. What do they think about these grade books in general? What were some of the things you heard from them?

So, you know, it's pretty across the map. I think some parents felt like this is a good way that I can stay on top of a student who maybe is struggling. Some parents felt like it eased communication with teachers.

And so I think it's sort of not all bad. And I especially heard from, you know, some teachers who felt like parents who maybe didn't have the time to be really involved in their kids' schools because they're working really hard. Maybe they have a lot of travel to do back and forth to work or school, it will let them be more involved.

So, you know, I'm not trying to say that it's all bad, but I will say that teachers said that this, sort of, very active 10% of just squeak squeaky wheels. It's just this ... extra, not-always-necessary stressor when parents, again, are unhappy with one assignment or one test. ... [W]hat they also told me was a lot of times parents and students were actually misinterpreting what they were seeing. So an example that I heard come up a million times was, you know, an assignment was put in the system as a zero just because that's the, what happens if a kid is absent for the day, let's say. It doesn't mean they actually got a zero on the assignment, but it can momentarily tank the grade point average. And so there were numerous instances where, you know, there'd be panic from the parent or the student that like, "Oh my God, you know, my GPA was this yesterday, and it's this today. And the teachers were just like, "It's not, it's meaningless. It literally doesn't mean what you think it does." And if you just weren't checking so frequently, it wouldn't even register.

The ... overall thing that I heard from a lot of folks was like, it was sort of implemented across the board over the past 15 years without kind of thinking through the downsides — without training teachers, without training parents or students about, you know, best uses of this technology. And that I think everyone really could use some guidelines, guardrails, so we can all have a healthier relationship with this. Because I think, you know, at this point, it's really the dominant mode of grading information in the United States. And I don't think it's going anywhere.

Talk a little more about the students that you talked to. Anxiety, stress levels, this is already such a part of the conversation about kids today. And this seems to be exacerbating those problems for a lot of them. What did they have to say?

It's like a mixed bag. Some of them felt it helped them be organized, it helped them stay on top of things. And then others really felt like it was very detrimental to them and it made them sort of over focused on, you know, "Oh this is how I'm doing and this is, you know, how I stack up to other people." And so because there isn't actually as much research as you would like to see on something that is this pervasive. It did seem sort of similar to what I have read about social media, which is, you know, it is benign for most people who use it. But there is a minority of people who are very damaged by it. And you don't know until you are interacting with this technology, if you are going to be one of these people who is really not helped by it.

As you said, most people are going to be fine with this, but it seems like there are probably conversations to be had right now about how to better handle this kind of technology for parents, for teachers, for students in general. What are some of the best practices that came up?

So the the suggestion that I thought was the best and could fix so much is that there are settings at the school district level or the high school level that grades can just be released once a week. So it doesn't mean that teachers on their on aren't inputting the grades every day. It's that they just get released to parents and students once a week. So you cannot hypercheck because there will be no updates. So tweaking the systems just to staunch the flow of information.

I would say No. 2, then this is like what parents and students can do adjust. So you're not getting alerts every day, you know, and it's hard. I totally understand how much pressure there is to get into college to get scholarships. My generation, millennials, were crippled by student loan debt. I totally understand that kids who are, you know, hoping to go to college do not want that debt and, and many of them want want to it through scholarships and I I do not want to diminish the very real anxieties and concerns that many people have. But I will also say that there is no evidence that checking your grade constantly actually improves your grades.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.