By Denise Smith Amos
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COVINGTON - Doreen Baker's report card season began with a couple of unusual meetings this month.
Her children's school, Holmes Jr./Sr. High, held its first parent-teacher conferences run by students.
Kids ran the show, discussing their school work and grades with their parents and their home room teachers.
Click to view Acrobat PDF file (192k) showing in-depth look at new and old report cards and how they differ.
(Charles W. Jones/Enquirer infographic)
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Baker learned from her daughter, Meredith, a freshman, that she'll get As and high Bs on her report card this week. Baker also learned from teachers' written comments that Meredith is well organized and conscientious.
Baker's second conference was more trying. Her son, Morgan, a senior, said he expects Cs in two subjects, mostly because of incomplete or late assignments. He told his mother, a Covington banker, that he'd been "doing a balancing act" between English and physics.
"I suggest the goal is to do your work," Baker calmly told her son. "We know you can do it."
Teachers throughout Greater Cincinnati are preparing first-quarter report cards amid a sea of changes.
Schools like Holmes are taking the surprise out of report cards by giving parents a heads-up before the day of academic reckoning. Other schools post student grades - from pop quizzes to major projects - in Internet accounts that only parents and students can access.
"I'm often amazed that parents are surprised by bad grades," said Michael White, director of testing and research at Princeton City School District. "Teachers shouldn't let parents wait that long. Parents - and students, as they get old enough - should be monitoring their behavior."
Nationwide there are some 40 different Internet "electronic gradebook" systems. At least 140 schools in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are using or testing the systems.
Meredith Baker, a student at Holmes High School, goes over her school work and grades with her mother, Doreen (left) and teacher Michele Hellmann during a student-led parent-teacher conference.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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Cincinnati Public Schools is spending more than $12 million on a system and will begin training its teachers in December. Teachers can post grades, record homework assignments, calculate grade-point averages and share class notes with students and parents on its password-accessible Web site.
The system also will more easily track students from school to school, said Janet Walsh, Cincinnati school spokeswoman.
The district believes nearly all of its parents will be able to access it via the Internet - either at home, at work, at a library or at school. But written reports will be sent home as well.
Summit Country Day in Hyde Park has used a Blackboard system for two years. With a click, parents can check their child's progress as well as e-mail the teacher.
Greg Edwards, father of Lizzie, a sixth-grader, says it gives him an early, accurate picture of her progress.
"A report card is great, but that's a little bit of a rear-view mirror,'' he said. "This is like a daily report card. There are no surprises."
These systems, school administrators say, put report cards in perspective and improve communication between parents and teachers.
For generations, schools relied on parent-teacher conferences with students playing a passive role, at best.
Holmes High turned that around by putting the student in charge.
The goal, said principal Raymond C. Finke, is to get parents into the school and involved beyond the report cards. He modeled the student-run confabs after ones he saw at Clark Montessori and Schroder Paideia's middle school - both Cincinnati Public schools - and at a school in Louisville.
Typically, about 400 families, or 30 percent, attended Holmes' traditional parent-teacher conferences, Finke said. When Holmes introduced the conferences this month, 750-plus parents attended, or more than 57 percent.
It doesn't mean less work for teachers. Teachers write the evaluations students show their parents, and provide details about each grade.
At Holmes, many teachers give students printouts with every grade for every assignment and test.
During the Bakers' conference, Morgan scrambled from his backpack to his desk to get his teachers' reports together, minutes before the conference began.
Toni Gissendanner, Morgan's physics teacher, said having students present the information makes them more accountable.
Morgan only partly agreed. He said he wasn't sure that the new experience was enough for him to change his old habits.
"I'm a senior. I've never had to do this before," he said. "I thought this was kind of stupid. But in the long run, I guess it may help kids eventually."
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