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Schools boosting Web links to homes

More parents reached online

Schools are pioneering online programs that enable parents to view their children's homework assignments and final grades. Schools are pioneering online programs that enable parents to view their children's homework assignments and final grades.

The days of hiding dismal report cards and midterm grades to avoid the wrath of parents may soon become a relic of the past - at least in some towns.

A growing number of public school districts in the region, including Nashoba Regional, Shrewsbury, and Needham, are pioneering online programs that enable parents to gain a bird's-eye glimpse into their children's academic life - everything from final grades to ongoing homework assignments.

Nashoba Superintendent Michael Wood said his administration is expanding the service this year from the middle-school level to the high school due to its popularity among parents.

At some point, the tri-town district, comprising Stow, Bolton, and Lancaster, could even do away with the traditional system of mailing home progress reports and replace it with an e-mail or online notification system, he said.

The shift from paper to online grading meshes with the school's philosophy of "personalized learning," involving a triad of parents, teachers, and students, said Wood.

"Parents now can't say they didn't know" about a student's problem, he said.

Nashoba school officials use a special software that allows teachers to enter all homework, essay, and test grades into an electronic grade book, said Wood. Parents can access the information by logging into an account on the school website, nrsd.net.

So far, the new online grading system has proved popular, said Wood. About 40 percent of middle school parents across the Nashoba district are enrolled in the system, which was started in those schools last year, he said.

"It's definitely catching on," said Wood. "I think it's just another way of staying informed. It's like checking the newspaper at the end of the day."

In Shrewsbury, school officials are prompting a six-month pilot program for parent access at the high school beginning in November, using existing software the school owns known as PowerSchool, said Shrewsbury principal Brian Reagan.

If the trial run - which is aimed mainly at making sure there are no bugs in the system - goes well, the parent access program should be available for the entire school next fall, he said.

The measure comes mainly at the urging of parents, many of whom want to be more directly involved with their children's academics, said Reagan.

"I think parents want to be as plugged in as possible to their students," said Reagan. "This is a very attractive feature."

Like Nashoba, Shrewsbury High School also may ultimately eliminate the use of paper progress reports, added Reagan. The high school mails final report cards home, while mid-term grades are sent home with the student, a system that is both costly and time-consuming, he said.

Reagan said his co-workers have been talking with school officials across the nation, who have given the system high marks for its ability to grant teachers more time to focus on classroom work.

"The feedback from schools across the country is that it actually minimizes e-mails and phone calls from parents to teachers," said Reagan.

Nashoba will go online with its parent access system at the high school on Oct. 12, said Wood. School officials are conducting training sessions with parents in an effort to educate them about the system, he said.

Wood said the cost of the software is negligible, but he does have concerns about the ability of the school to handle a high number of users on the district's website once the high school goes online.

There may be significant costs to increasing the district's fiber-optic capacity to handle more users, though he didn't have any estimates yet, he said.

"We'll know after Oct. 12," he said.

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