Feighan: Missing the mark on electronic report cards

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Seven months into my 5-year-old’s first year of school, my husband and I — both college-educated, longtime journalists who consider ourselves fairly on top of things — realized something important was missing: his report card.

In our defense, we’re not neglectful parents (clueless, maybe, but not neglectful). At the start of the school year, we signed up for an electronic notification system through our Oakland County district called Power School. The district asked us to do it, so we did it. We just didn’t realize we needed to check it — regularly.

Around March, my husband started to complain.

“Why haven’t we had another parent-teacher conference?” he asked.

Using my super sleuth powers, I started digging. For the first time since the start of the school year, I logged into Power School — a must for parents of older children who want to track their kids’ assignments and test scores to make sure they’re not falling behind — and started to nose around.

A few clicks later, suddenly, there they were: my son’s grades — for three quarters. They weren’t actual letter grades, but numbers showing if he’d attained certain skills in kindergarten. We’d missed all of them.

Paper report cards, it turns out, have gone the way of cassette tapes, answering machines and VCRs in a growing number of Metro Detroit school districts.


Still, as our society becomes ever more digital, converting nearly everything from pictures to songs into portable electronic files, I wonder about those people still clinging to their flip phones. Are we leaving people who aren’t tech savvy behind? Even signing up to volunteer at your child’s school now requires an email account in many places, followed by creating an account on websites such as Signup Genius.

“I’m old-fashioned. I like paper,” said one mom I met at a PTO meeting.

But holding on to the past isn’t really an option in some school districts.

Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, the largest school district in Oakland County, switched to online report cards a few years ago and now uses a system called Skyward/Family Access to post students’ grades.

“Parents receive family access Skyward codes and use this system to receive student progress reports and a lot of other communication from teachers and administrators in the district,” said Judy Evola, the district’s director of community relations and marketing, in an email. “Any parent who doesn’t have access to a computer can call their school office to receive a paper copy of their child’s report card.”

Many districts do both: post grades online and issue paper report cards. Grosse Pointe Public Schools has an electronic notification system, but issues paper report cards, too, except in high school.

Dearborn Public Schools uses a system offered through Wayne County’s intermediate school district, but still sends home paper report cards.

“With 14,000 of our 20,000 students on free and reduced lunch, I don’t think we will be phasing out paper report cards anytime soon,” said Dearborn spokesman David Mustonen in an email.

In our district, West Bloomfield, parents can request a paper report card. They just have to go to their school’s office and staff will print one up. But all report cards are accessible first on Power School.

For now, I finally feel up to speed about how my son is doing in kindergarten. Yes, it took seven months to figure it out, but we’re all learning something new this school year. I’ll be more on top of things next year — so long as I remember to log in.