Do Schools Really Need To Give Parents Live Updates on Students' Performance?

This new school-to-parent pipeline allows parents to micromanage yet another aspect of their kids' lives.


Big Brother—and Parent, and Teacher—are watching.

Across America, teachers are uploading students' grades to digital portals on a weekly, daily, or sometimes hourly basis. They are posting not just grades on big tests, but quizzes, homework, and in-class work too. Sometimes teachers give points for day-to-day behavior in real time: Did he raise his hand before asking his question? No? Points are docked. Parents are notified. So are the kids.

The pupil panopticon starts in elementary school and just doesn't stop.

In one high school, I am told, the grading portal changes color when the grade, even on a single assignment, pushes the kid's average up (green) or down (red). This can fluctuate by the hour, which means so can a kid's feelings of joy or despair. Parents can enjoy the same stomach-churning experience because they, too, have access to the portals, for better or worse.

"If I have to hear one more time from my wife about how our son isn't going to college because he forgot to hand in a single homework assignment or did bad on ONE test I'm gonna fucking lose my mind!" is how one father expressed it on Reddit. "All it does is annoy the shit out of him, annoy the shit out of me, and damage his relationship with her. That's it."

That really is it. Even many of the parents who say the portal helps them keep their kids on track still admit it's a source of stress. They get an extra helping of angst when they watch their kids nervously await the exposure of their grades.

This new school-to-parent pipeline allows parents to micromanage yet another aspect of their kids' lives. They already track their kids' locations, via devices and AirTags. And of course, they sign the kids up for organized activities, so the kids are always doing something adult-supervised and parent-approved. Now they have become an invisible presence in one place they used to be banished: the classroom. The message for parents is they should always be watching their kids, even as their kids grow up under a microscope, telescope, and periscope.

I asked for comments on the portals via Facebook. Many people who responded asked me not to use their full names because they're upset about the system but don't want their kids to suffer extra for their indiscretion. "My son has ADHD and minor anxiety and he is obsessed with the grade portal—he's 11," wrote Jen, a mom in Marshall, Texas. "When he's waiting for a quiz or test grade, he's constantly trying to check and refresh the page. It's disturbing."

Beth Tubbs is a therapist in the Pacific Northwest who sees a lot of young people with anxiety. She says these portals aren't helping. When grades are available to students and their parents in real time, "Everything feels high stakes," Tubbs says. She's had tweens tell her, "I'm really anxious because I got a C on my geometry test and that means I'm not going to get into a good college."

Since a lot of parents are just as anxious, the ever-present portals can create a feedback loop. The parents worry that if they aren't on top of things, their child might not be successful. So they're always checking the portal, which makes the child worry that any bad grade means the end. Repeat this day after day, and it starts to feel as if grade portals may be one unexamined reason kids' anxiety is spiking.

It's not just the high school juniors and seniors who are suffering. ClassDojo is a popular portal that allows teachers to grant and dock academic and behavior points starting with kids as young as age 5.

"Depending on the teacher's updating habits, you may get pinged with updates throughout the day on how well your child is sharing, sitting crisscross applesauce, staying quiet when directed, and following other classroom expectations," writes Devorah Heitner in her new book, Growing Up in Public.

The result can mean no let-up for the parent or the kid.

"Three weeks into my son's kindergarten year, I'm already dreading any notification from this app," a mom named Melissa wrote on an education blog about the app. "The only thing I hear are private messages about what he's done wrong. My workday is spent dreading the notification from this horrible application, and I feel so defeated about school already. I can only imagine what my son's feeling."

The set-up is even making teachers anxious. One told me she accidentally gave a student a low grade on a quiz because of a typo. Within two minutes, the visibly upset student was asking about the quiz and had already been grounded by their mother. "The online Gradebook has had a….questionable.…impact for some students, parents, and teachers," the teacher wrote.

The problem is that the portals have created a whole new student/teacher/parent equation, says Emily Cherkin, author of The Screentime Solution: A Judgment-Free Guide to Becoming a Tech-Intentional Family. Before she became "The Screentime Consultant," Cherkin was a teacher from 2003–2015—that is, both before and after the advent of the portals. When they were introduced in about 2005, she says, she witnessed two things: Her students stopped asking her why they got something wrong on the test, and the parents started asking for them. The portals "triangulated something that shouldn't have been triangulated," Cherkin says.

Gone is the opportunity kids once had to daydream in class, or blow a quiz, or crack a joke. As for the parents, they're almost forced into helicoptering—a fact some are starting to resent.

Melinda Wenner Moyer, author of How to Raise Kids Who Aren't Assholes and mom of a seventh-grader in upstate New York, says, "I saw my son got a 30 and I brought it up casually like, 'What happened with that social studies thing?' And he said, 'Mom, I've got it handled. It was a mistake and I've talked to the teacher about it, and I see PowerSchool [the portal] too. I'm on top of it and would appreciate it if you would trust me.'" Since then, says Moyer, she has made a concerted effort not to open the portal much, "and it really helped my relationship with my son."

Autonomy is one of the three great needs in any human's life (along with relatedness and competence). Giving kids some autonomy back could be enormously beneficial for both generations, which is why it's time to seriously consider whether the portals are doing what they're supposed to do: help students succeed.

Roseanne Eckert is a defense attorney in Orlando. Her son graduated high school in 2017. For a while, she writes, "I would check his grades at work and come home mad, while he didn't even know the grade yet. I finally decided to stop it and we were all happier. The schools push the parents to be on top of the grades but it is a constant misery. Just say no!" For the record, Eckert adds: Her son was not a straight-A student in high school, but now he's about to get his master's degree in biomedical engineering.

So for anyone seeing a B- on that portal: Shut it down, take a deep breath, and wait a few minutes.

Or better still, years.