Why I Hate School Portals And Digital Education Records

by Melissa L. Fenton
Geber86 / Getty Images

Kids hate them.

Parents hate them.

Even teachers hate them.

No, it’s not new common core math standards, or another dreaded science project. It’s the dreaded school parent portal system we all have to use to keep track of our kid’s school progress.

Technology has brought innumerable advances to education, and with it, has made many tasks for teachers and parents much easier and more efficient. Things like email have certainly streamlined communication between teachers and parents, and the ability to receive homework assignments online, and stay connected and aware of school events through school district websites are all things we’d probably be lost without.

On the flip side, we’ve also been introduced to online academic parent portals –– software which allows the tracking of our child’s educational progress, and the permanent new home of all of our child’s education records. We’ve long ditched paper report cards for the digital version, and although we’re saving trees and a ton of red ink, we’re also tip-toeing into dangerous territory.

How so? Well, because these online portals have the ability to notify parents of something our child does only seconds after it happens, we’re slowly growing accustomed to being notified of every little thing our child does in school — just about every single day. This does not bode well for any attempts to reduce our obsessive intervention into the minutiae of our kids’ lives, and it also encourages a great deal of over-involvement by parents.

Just because we have the ability to find out what little Johnny scored on his spelling test today, doesn’t mean we need to find out that day, lest we tell ourselves not knowing makes us terrible parents. Our infatuation with our child’s school progress is now perpetuated by automated daily updates on everything from behavior, to how many minutes their multiplication math facts worksheet took to complete. What happened to patiently waiting several days for a graded spelling test to come back to see what our grade was?

It’s not only parents asking that question, but teachers as well. Instead of spending their planning periods actually planning, they’re frantically entering grade and behavior data into portals to keep up with demands for that information. Demands that are coming from parents and their own administration. And when they don’t have grades loaded into the system at the unreasonable speed at which they’re being asked to load them, you’ve got irate parents calling and emailing the school, complaining they’re not being kept abreast of their child’s progress frequently enough, or quickly enough.

All this makes for very anxious teachers and children. Recently, my son found himself pacing our home nervously because I had forgotten the portal login, and was unable to tell him what his current science grade was. (Forgotten, because I currently have three different ones to keep track of.) Was this my high school senior worrying about an AP Chemistry mid-term and the potential college ramifications? Nope. It was my fifth grader, tears welling up in his eyes because he was afraid he failed his last science test, and wanted to check his progress and see how badly it would affect his quarterly grade. Let me repeat that. A ten-year-old child was experiencing major symptoms of anxiety because he was unable to login into a parent portal to assess his school progress.

And the teachers? Just ask them what their thoughts are, and I would bet that the pain in the ass factor trumps the convenience factor quite heavily. Ask them what happens when the school’s Internet goes down, and they’re spending a huge chunk of their evenings and weekends hand writing plans and grading papers, and then having to repeat that entire process again by loading the same information into a software program.

It used to be kind of a big deal to wait until spelling test were handed back, then see the little scratch and sniff “Well done!” sticker pasted to the top, then safely tuck the test into your backpack so you could proudly present it to your mom when you got home. Then it would be taped to the fridge with all of your other graded papers — your teacher’s perfect handwriting telling you how great you did, or what you need to work on for next time.

All of that has been replaced by sterile and impersonal portal spreadsheets that nobody has time to print out anyway, let alone want to display on fridge doors. If there was some way to scale down the grading parent portal technology madness a bit, all while easing teacher’s tasks and keeping parents up to speed on their kid’s progress, can someone invent it?

If not, just bring back the scratch and sniff stickers and red pens, please.