Virtual Record Keeping: Should Teachers Keep Online Grade Books?

Lacina, Jan

Teaching and learning radically changed with advances in technology. Research shows that the computer can be an effective tool in both teaching and learning (McFarlane, 1997; Migliorino & Maiden, 2004), and for that reason, school districts throughout the United States support schools by purchasing computers and software for individual classrooms. As a result, many school districts are using real-time Internet informational systems to manage student data (attendance, grades, homework, etc.). While using such an online management system offers many benefits, these management systems are not necessarily designed to meet the developmental needs of young children. In this column, I will address the pros and cons of using electronic grade books or management systems.

Pros and Cons of Electronic Grade Books

As an online educator for five years, I understand the benefits, and the frustrations, of using an online grading system. The benefits are numerous. Students have immediate access to their grades, and they can even read detailed feedback from essay exams online. Students can view their online grades anywhere in the world, any time of the day. As a college student, I always dreaded the Christmas holiday, since I waited in great anticipation for my final course grades to arrive in the mail. Of course, my father always opened the grade report first, and that seemed to be the worst part of receiving my grades. College students today likely know their course grades soon after final exams, and they do not have to wait weeks to find out course grades, let alone an exam score. Li (1998) explains that using online grade books allows instructors to keep up-to-date records, and online grade books allow instructors to communicate student progress to parents more effectively. “Perhaps the greatest advantage of these grade books is the flexibility they allow educators in reporting student progress. They possess the ability to print class averages, individual student grades, lists of assignments, and even missing assignments” (Li, p. 62). Online grade book formats vary, depending on the platform system. For example, as a college instructor, I have used both the webct ( and Ecollege ( indexflash.learn) systems. Both of these platforms typically house a course shell, which includes course notes, discussion boards, E-mail, chat rooms, and an electronic grade book. Ecollege is an easier system when one knows a little about html, and the grade book system, in my opinion, is easier to navigate. Ecollege and webct platforms are more often used atthe secondary or higher education levels. Students may take Web-enhanced courses or a 100 percent Web-delivered course through either of these platforms.

Online information systems, such as PowerSchool, offer school districts the ability to keep track of school district attendance and to manage all aspects of student data, including an electronic grade book ( powerschool/technology/). There are numerous benefits to using a system such as PowerSchool. For example, school districts do not need to maintain a server, and the system is accessible through either a Mac or PC. Most important for school administrators, database maintenance is centralized and money may be saved since multiple servers do not need to be synchronized. As with Ecollege, teachers using PowerSchool enter grades and attendance records online through PowerSchool’s online grade book, known as PowerGrade.

Grading programs, like those supported by PowerSchool and Ecollege, allow teachers to spend more time planning instruction instead of figuring grades by hand (Migliorino & Maiden, 2004). Such systems automatically average students’ grades, and students and teachers can keep track of grade averages and percentile scores. Likewise, online grade books produce professional looking documents that can be viewed either online or printed out for parents to view. For those teachers who prefer to use authentic assessments, writing portfolios can be kept online easily, and grading rubrics and assessment checklists also can be posted online. Overall, online grading systems allow teachers to easily keep track of student progress while maintaining professional documents.

Despite the numerous benefits of using online grading software, electronic grade books do have drawbacks. While electronic grade books are extremely useful at the secondary level, assessment at the early childhood, or even at the elementary school, level is very different than assessment at the secondary school level. Examples of online grade books from the systems I examined all showcased secondary examples of online grade books. Electronic grade books can work at the elementary level, but they must be conceptualized and designed with the developmental needs and abilities of the young child in mind. For example, factors such as the student’s culture, language, and ability must be taken into consideration when designing assessments. Although Donald Graves says, “Grading is a fact of life” (1983, p. 93), he also points out that teachers should use grades to encourage students. Assessment procedures should document what students can do, not merely keep record of what they cannot do well. Since early childhood teachers often document student progress through authentic assessments, such as through student observational checklists or anecdotal records, requiring early childhood teachers to use electronic grade books to note numerical grades, means, and percentile scores is not realistic or even appropriate. A concerned early childhood teacher, whom I will call Mary to protect her identity, corresponded with me to voice her concerns about electronic grade books. Mary’s school district recently decided to purchase the PowerSchool system. Mary wrote:

The program is set up, formatted, and designed for high school, which is fine and is best suited for that level and maybe junior high/middle school. The issues are when SIS programs like PowerGrade are set up for K-6 and especially K-3. The program is not user friendly for K-2 in how we look at the learning process and a child’s literacy journey. As teachers, we have spent years trying to educate [the] administration and our early childhood parent community about how we can best report the progress of young emergent learners. We have tried to steer away from the A’s and B’s [of] stereotypical report cards to more developmental progress [reports] that show more of a level where a child is performing. There are plenty of years ahead for the A’s and B’s. Now enter PowerSchool or other SIS. It is not developmentally appropriate for K-2 and perhaps K-6 in general. A program like PowerSchool should not drive the boat, so to speak, about how teachers assess and report progress of young children to parents.

Mary is a passionate educator who cares about her students. She is not against using online software in general, but she is adamantly against one system being forced on teachers and schools when it may not be developmentally appropriate for students.

Online information systems, or electronic grade books, can be integrated into school districts in a number of ways. First, school administrators need to consult those people who know young children best-their district teachers. As Mary explains,

It’s important for school districts wanting to move forward with such technology to gather input and buy-in from the user group-all the teachers at all levels-and then together explore, compare, and evaluate the SIS program products available before selecting and venturing into real time student informational systems.

Second, school districts must analyze their teachers’ attitudes toward using technology-in particular, online grade books-prior to requiring all teachers to use such a system. Having a positive attitude about integrating technology applications into classroom practice is critical to the success of such integration (Brush, Armstrong, Barbrow, & Ulintz, 1999; Cote & Levine, 2000; Gettys & Fowler, 1996; Migliorino & Maiden, 2004; Vannatta & Fordham, 2004). For example, MacArthur and Malouf (1991) found through case study research that teachers’ attitudes about technology influenced the use of computers in their classrooms. Similarly, Vannatta and Fordham (2004) discovered through administering the Teacher Attribute Survey, which measured teacher self-efficacy, philosophy, and openness to change, that predictors to classroom technology use include the amount of technology training a district provided and the time teachers spent beyond the contractual work week. Research also shows that teachers who are older may have less confidence and more anxiety toward technology than their younger peers do (Applebaum, 1990; Baack, Brown, & Brown, 1991; Henry & Stone, 1997; Migliorino & Maiden, 2004). This, in part, may be a result of younger teachers receiving greater training with technology in and out of school compared to their older colleagues. Although many school districts strongly support the integration of technology into classroom instruction, few provide the necessary ongoing technological professional development. For example, the U.S. Department of Education recommends that school districts allocate at least 30 percent of their technology budget to professional development; however, few districts provide such training (CEO Forum, 2000).

Integrating technology into schools has become a given, and an important component in preparing students for higher education or for a future job. Nevertheless, it is important for school district administrators to examine the developmental needs of all of their students prior to mandating a centralized informational system or an electronic grade book. Finally, ongoing training for teachers, students, and parents is essential for the success of any online system. Just as computers and software become outdated as newer and better versions are developed, professional development training for teachers must be current, ongoing, and specific to their students’ needs. Such training will help teachers integrate what they learn from professional development into classroom instruction.


Applebaum, S. H. (1990). Computerphobia: Training managers to reduce fears and love the machines. Industrial & Commercial Training, 22(6), 9-16.

Baack, S., Brown, T., & Brown, J. (1991). Attitudes toward computers: Views of older adults compared with those of younger adults. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 23(3), 422-433.

Brush, T. A., Armstrong, J., Barbrow, O., & Ulintz, L. (1999). Design and delivery of integrated learning systems: Their impact on student achievement and attitudes. Journal of Educational Computing Research. (ERIC Journal Reproduction Service No. EJ 6-6 782)

CEO Forum on Education and Technology. (2000). School technology and readiness report-professional development: A link to better learning. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved January 1, 2006, from

Cote, J. E., & Levine, C. G. (2000). Attitude versus aptitude: Is intelligence or motivation more important for positive higher education outcomes? Journal of Adolescent Research. (ERIC Journal Reproduction Service No. EJ 599 988)

Gettys, C. M., & Fowler, F. (1996). The relationship of academic and recreational reading attitudes school wide. A beginning study. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 402 568)

Graves, D. (1983). Writing: Teachers and students at work. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Henry, J. W., & Stone, R. W. (1997). The development and validation of computer self-efficacy and outcome expectancy scales in a non-volitional context. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, &t Computers, 29(4), 519-527.

Li, R (1998). Grading the electronic way. Technology & Learning, 19(2), 62.

MacArthur, C. A., & Malouf, D. B. (1991). Teachers’ beliefs, plans, and decisions about computer-based instruction. Journal of Special Education, 25(1), 44-72.

McFarlane,T. A. (1997, March). Teachers’ attitudes toward technology: Psychometric evaluation of the technology attitude survey. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 411 279).

Migliorino, J. J., & Maiden, J. (2004). Educator attitudes toward electronic grading software. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 36(3), 193-212.

Vannatta, R. A., & Fordham, N. (2004). Teacher disposition as predictors of classroom technology use. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 36(3), 253-271.

Resources for Teachers

Technology in Early Childhood Programs

NAEYC provides this list of tips to help educators evaluate computer programs and determine whether they support developmentally appropriate practices.

Technology in Early Childhood Education: Finding Balance

The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory provides this online booklet to discuss the role of technology in early childhood education, birth to age 8. In particular, the article notes the successful attributes of early childhood technologically rich schools.

Hertzog, N., & Klein, M. (2005). Beyond gaming: A technology explosion in early childhood classrooms. Gifted Child Today, 28(3), 24-31.

This practical article discusses ways that early childhood teachers can integrate technology into the classroom to help children grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally. The authors provide examples of ways to integrate technology into the curriculum.

Resources on Early Childhood Assessment

The site lists relevant books and articles.

Choosing an Appropriate Assessment System

This article describes how early childhood professionals can go about choosing a developmentally appropriate assessment system.

Get Parents Tuned into Online Gradebooks

This online article is featured on the Web site of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. It offers practical suggestions for implementing online grade books, and notes the availability of some free online grade books.

Jan Lacina

Jan Lacina is Assistant Professor, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth.

Copyright Association for Childhood Education International Summer 2006

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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