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More helicopter parenting?: Looking at the new grade book policy

As the first semester came to a close, with all assignments in (or not) and grades finally published, students sighed with relief at the end of an unprecedented online semester. After a too-short winter break, students were grateful to start with a blank slate for the second semester. But hold those sighs of relief, there’s a catch: the administration has introduced a new policy which will mandate that the gradebook be open to parents for five weeks of the academic year. Yes, you heard that right. Those two lovely frantic weeks in the semester where the gradebook is open to parents will now open four times, the first three in one week increments and the last for two weeks, in an effort to combat late work; a policy that is both ineffective and detrimental. 

Although the policy may appear viable, there are many problems that quickly become evident with a closer look. First, it adds an additional layer of parental supervision that can be damaging for students. This policy is likely to turn already vigilant parents into something akin to drill sergeants watching every academic move. Parents often heighten the anxiety of students, especially Marlborough students who seek to please and demonstrate perfection. Even more concerningly, it can deter current high achieving students from taking academic risks on assignments that are key to the learning process. Currently, many students feel comfortable with trying a harder English prompt, or choosing a harder research topic, because they know their overall grade by the end of the semester will be safe. Now, risk-taking is a less appealing option since parents will constantly check in on each assignment. There is a certain comfort in having the whole semester to improve rather than being watched at every turn. 

Additionally, extra parental surveillance makes completing work extrinsically rather than intrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation is when one completes a task to earn a reward or avoid punishment; intrinsic motivation entails completing a task because one finds it personally rewarding. Parents checking on students will become de rigueur for students to the point of absolute reliance; the daily reminders that their English homework needs to be turned in or that their math corrections are due will become necessary for students to complete their work. Numerous psychological studies indicate that extrinsic motivation fails because when this pressure is gone students will lack the motivation to continue learning. Furthermore, it prevents students from learning the necessary skills essential to working independently after high school, destroying the “college preparatory” aspect of Marlborough. While many will say the policy is effective for younger students, it will in fact be more harmful because when the safeguard of parents is removed, students will have even more late work since they will lack independent working skills, making the policy counter-productive. 

“But it’s only open for a few more weeks!” some argue. The problem of extra parental surveillance persists even if the gradebook is only open for a few weeks because it not only more than doubles the amount of time parents can access the gradebook, but also effectively sets up a culture that encourages parents to be unnecessarily vigilant. The normal mountains and valleys on overall grade percentages is something foreign to parents given they did not have online gradebooks when they were students. More access to the gradebook, means more opportunities to see low points, only adding to student stress.

The largest qualm with this new policy is that for all the detriments, it does not solve the problem they are tackling: late work. Either the current system that Marlborough uses should solve late work or this new policy fails. Parents currently receive notifications about missing work through official notes or emails with teachers. Either they are choosing to ignore the notifications, in which case more access to MyMarlborough will not help, or parents are trying to help the problem and extra surveillance is ineffective since the problem persists.

The true reason why the policy does not solve is that it is predicated on a misdiagnosis. The policy is justified on the premise that the pandemic has hindered teachers’ ability to check on students, which creates the abundance of late work. However, the reason for increased late work is not lack of reminders, but the late work policy itself; an incessantly reiterated policy that allows students to turn in work as late as the last day of the semester without penalty. When students are constantly being told that they have until the end of the semester to turn in work, why wouldn’t they turn in their passage analysis after the discussion has already happened in class? The school must recalibrate the very policy that allows late work to permeate the school in order to truly combat the problem. Rather than implementing a policy that attempts (and fails) to solve the issue at hand, the administration should look at the root cause of late work. Otherwise, they will be stuck in an endless loop of trying to come up with solutions that never get to the heart of the issue. 

The futility of the new gradebook policy combined with its myriad of drawbacks makes this policy far from efficacious. Despite the earnest intention of the administration in creating it, this policy falls short as it only helps exacerbate preexisting structures of stress, sacrifices student autonomy and college-preparedness and fails to solve the issue it is meant to address.

By Anya ’22