High school report cards online

Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2005

When report cards are issued to Frederick County public high school students today, parents will be able access grades using the Internet for the first time.

While some Frederick County teachers have used online gradebooks in the past, this year’s first-term grades will be available for the first time district-wide for high school students, using Pinnacle Internet Viewer.

Instant access to student performance is currently available at the county’s nine high schools as well as the Career and Technology Center, Flexible Evening High School and Heather Ridge School.

The program is also being piloted at West Frederick Middle School, with the goal of adding all county middle schools in 2006-2007.

To implement the program, Frederick County Public Schools spent $120,000 for software, licensing and implementation fees. The school system will pay an annual maintenance fee of about $3,000 at each school, for support and software upgrades.

Administrative systems supervisor Mary Trapane said the system tracks a student’s progress during the entire term, from test results to whether or not a pupil has turned in homework assignments.

‘‘We’re still giving out paper report cards but hopefully, if we provide progress online, there will be no surprises,” she said. ‘‘The feedback we are getting is that parents love it and are more involved with educational experiences at the middle and high school levels.

‘‘The biggest benefit to parents and students is getting online to see in real-time how they are doing. A number of studies have shown that when parents and students have easy access to grades, students perform better because they have constant updates on progress.”

Online grades
Frederick County Public Schools will send out traditional report cards for high school students today, but the grades will also be posted on a secure Web site for the first time. To access a report card, log onto http:⁄⁄grades.fcps.org and enter the student ID and PIN code made available by the school.
For those unable to access grades at home, Trapane said many of the participating schools have made time and computers available to check grades, as have county libraries.

‘‘We’ve provided training for library staff so if a parent or student comes in, someone will be able to walk them through the process,” she said.

The use of Pinnacle also has its benefits for school personnel, Trapane said, because it eliminates the old process of teachers filling out paperwork with rows of bubbles to record grades, and now lets them enter data directly using a computer. Administrators and principals also benefit by being able to pull up student or entire school data at the click of a mouse as well.

Gary Brennan, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association, acknowledges that initially, the big shift in grading was met with concern from teachers, but after months of training, they are adjusting to the new technology.

Brennan said one downside to real-time grade access is that sometimes, parents expect a test taken one day to be graded and posted online 24 hours later.

‘‘It can create a false expectation,” he said. ‘‘Teachers need time to grade, so parents need to understand that.”

One comfort for teachers, Brennan added, is that they are entering data into a secure system, something Trapane said is a big concern for the department.

Trapane said the system has a feature that flags any changes made away from a teacher’s classroom computer.

‘‘Before a change is applied, a warning comes up and the teacher can either accept it, if they did the editing, or deny the change and contact us about any problem,” she said.

Confident that the first system-wide rollout of the program will be a success, Trapane said that whether the school system extends Pinnacle’s use to elementary schools depends on funding.

Because grading is somewhat different at that level, the model used in secondary schools may not be the best model and additional software may be required.