by Julia Queller
The Grade Portal, an online gradebook, opened to Westfield parents on Oct. 12. Implemented by the BOE, the portal provides parents with access to their children’s grades, including individual assignments and attendance records. The portal offers benefits but also raises concerns for students, teachers and parents.
Race to Nowhere, a documentary about overly stressed high school students, was introduced to WHS last year to expose the dangers of a rigorous academic environment. Student Balance Committee Coordinator Carl Sparrow responded to the documentary, by recognizing that the problem of students’ stress extends beyond their workload.
Said Sparrow: "The problem of pressure on students is more than just counting the number of homework assignments. It’s about the tone that is set by a number of influences." One influence is now the portal, which Sparrow is concerned will "increase the pressure on students in a unproductive manner."
Both students and teachers believe the portal is placing too much emphasis on grades. Senior Jaime Lara said, "There is a huge amount of stress on academic ability and many people seem to believe that grades are the only reflection of one’s academic performance."
Art Teacher Mr. Roy Chambers added that the portal might cause students to become "overly concerned about their grades when the ultimate goal of education is to instill a love of learning."
A bulk of this stress may come from parents who will frequently check the portal. Sophomore Caroline Coletta said, "Now we have to deal with our parents grounding us because of missing a homework assignment?"
Students & Teachers
According to Coordinator of Alternative Education Instructor Mr. Peter Horn, the BOE requries teachers to end the marking period with at least 10 grades and update their grade books every two weeks. Some teachers have had to amend their grading systems to comply with the constraints of the portal, according to Math Teacher Mr. Louis De Angelo.
Chambers said: "I don’t want to be pigeon-holed to make each class the same. Every class has a unique personality and pace."
According to Horn, the BOE is only distributing log-in information to parents. This system denies students access to their grades unless their parents choose to share the password. De Angelo said he will always return assignments in class before he posts grades online to give students the chance to meet with him before confronting their parents. Said De Angelo, "These are the students’ grades; they should be first and foremost the students’."
In the Grade Portal Discussion led by Horn on Oct. 4, students and teachers raised concerns about the portal’s potential to eliminate the opportunity for students to learn individuality. Senior Alexander Zimmerman said the portal is counter-intuitive because the purpose of high school is to develop independence.
"As educators, it is our responsibility to teach students to be self-advocates," said Chambers.
However, De Angelo said the portal could be useful as "an extra safeguard to catch problems before they snowball."
Students & Parents
At the discussion, some students voiced concerns that their relationships with their parents might be negatively affected because of the Portal. Coletta said parents should be conversing with their children, "not spying through a computer."
However, because parents will inevitably see sub-par grades, the Portal could encourage students to learn the "difficult life skill" of delivering bad news, said De Angelo.
A recurring topic at the discussion was that each family holds only one account; if given the password, students in grades 3-12 will be able to view their siblings’ grades.
Senior Kayla Seigelstein said, "I don’t think it will affect my relationship with my sister because we respect each other enough to not check each other’s grades all the time."
The grade portal may improve conversations about academic growth if both students and parents can access it, said Horn. "This is... not likely to happen before we think together as a community about the best ways to employ the new technology."