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Bridging the Gap

When Donna Hernandez checked her daughter's grades at the Phoenix-Talent School District's Web site, she was surprised to see an "F" next to band class.

She turned to her daughter, Bailey, an eighth-grader at Talent Middle School, to find an explanation.

"You're a straight-A student, and you're flunking band?" Hernandez asked in disbelief. With a click of a mouse, Hernandez was able to read the reason for the grade, which the band teacher had typed in the district's online system, called PowerSchool.

It turned out Bailey had neglected to turn in her practice sheets showing she had rehearsed assigned music.

Bailey later completed the practice sheets and submitted them to her teacher.

"I have an 'A' now," Bailey said.

In most Jackson County schools and across the nation, report cards have evolved from pieces of paper sent to parents every six weeks to a dynamic document that parents and pupils can view daily online. The information in the online reports is more extensive than a traditional report card. Parents and students can check daily announcements, lunch account balances, unpaid fees, missing assignments, upcoming assignments and attendance as well as link to teachers' e-mail addresses to ask questions.

"It's not like when I went to school when you just tried to hide the report card," quipped Hernandez, whose sixth-grade son, Alex, also attends Talent. "With PowerSchool, they can't hide it."

Ashland School District, another PowerSchool user, and Rogue River, which offers Edline, launched the online student information trend in the county about five years ago. The following year Medford joined in with a customized report card software called Parent Access Link. Central Point School District added its PowerSchool program two years ago. The same year, Eagle Point School District set up an online report card system called ParentCONNECTxp.

In all the systems, parents and students are given a user name and password to log in and to keep each pupil's information confidential.

The online reports help keep parents informed about their children's progress and increase communication with the teacher through e-mail, school officials said. The online system is used frequently at the secondary level, but even some elementary schools in the county, including some in Medford, are beginning to use it.

"Teachers will tell you things are always better in school when teachers and parents are on the same page," said Mike Meunier, a principal at Crater High School in Central Point. "This just bridges the gap."

The system can help catch human error such as an overlooked homework assignment, said Kathy Herod, whose daughter, Molly, attends North Medford High School.

"She knows immediately if the teacher didn't mark down her homework, and she can tell them, 'Remember, I turned that in yesterday,' " Herod said.

Kaden and Kody Kinser, twin brothers at Hanby Middle School in Gold Hill, check their academic progress at least once a week on the school Web site, said their mother, Cathy Kinser.

"They are very motivated to see what their scores are," Cathy Kinser said. "I only check it every three weeks."

She also uses the site to check attendance and grades for her older son, Kyle, and daughter, Callie, who attend Crater.

"It's a wonderful tool," Cathy Kinser said. "It's a proactive approach versus a reactive approach when the parent gets the report card and says, 'What happened?' "

Talent Middle School and some other schools still issue pencil and paper progress reports to parents who prefer it or don't have Internet access. The paper reports contain more information about a child's attitude and behavior than the online system, said Principal Curt Shenk.

About 84 percent of pupils' records, however, are accessed through the online system, Shenk said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459.

Bailey Hernandez, 13, uses Talent Middle School’s Power School program to review her grades at home with her mom, Donna Hernandez, and 12-year-old brother, Alex Hernandez. Denise Baratta