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VICENZA, Italy — A new software program has been introduced by Department of Defense Education Activity this year that should allow parents to keep track of their children’s progress at schools throughout the system as never before.

GradeSpeed lets parents with Internet access check their children’s attendance, view individual assignments and watch as teachers enter grades throughout the school year. Parents also can use it to communicate with individual teachers.

"One of the main pushes every year is to get parents more involved in the school," said George Hamby, who has taught in the system for 16 years.

Just a few weeks into the school year, GradeSpeed appears to be doing that.

More than 13,300 accounts have been created by parents in Europe in the last year, according to Margret Menzies, public affairs officer for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe.

"So far, the results are positive," she said. "The only perceived disadvantage we’re hearing about is that some students are worried about their parents having too much access to school information. However, everything we know tells us that parent involvement in a student’s education is a critical factor in how successful their child will be."

"My kid hates it," said Lt. Col. Todd Johnston, who served as rear detachment commander in Vicenza for the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team while it was deployed to Afghanistan. "My wife is on it every day."

So Tamela Johnston found out that their son, Brian, was behind on an assignment.

Dad said he appreciates the program as a parent. But he said he could understand that some students might not be all that thrilled.

"If my parents had (GradeSpeed) while I was in college, I’d probably be a mechanic right now, because they would have stopped paying," he said with a laugh.

Vicenza was one of the schools testing the software program last year. Lauri Kenney, the new high school and middle school principal, also saw the program in action in Heidelberg — another test site.

She said the program has other benefits as well, such as allowing administrators to monitor whether athletes are academically eligible to play sports. But she said she doesn’t expect GradeSpeed will replace personal interaction between parents and teachers.

"It’s just a tool," Kenney said. "It’s just one form of communication we have with parents."

The new program might be the only realistic form of communication that some parents have, though. Soldiers from the 173rd recently returned from more than a year in Afghanistan. Setting up a phone conversation with a teacher in such circumstances can be problematic. But most servicemembers have at least occasional access to the Internet while deployed.

And occasional access might be sufficient. Parents who can’t check every day can set up notifications on their individual accounts. So if a student gets a "D" on a certain assignment, for example, the parent would receive an e-mail alert. Teachers aren’t required to post assignments or grades on a daily basis either and Kenney said that some are taking to the software quicker than others. So some parents might have much more to look at online than others do currently.

Hamby said the software isn’t designed to punish students, though some might see it that way. Rather, DODEA thinks that showing up to class on time and doing the work is important.

"Kids’ grades will go up," he said. "Test scores will go up. And it’s not inflating grades. If you do the homework, you’ll do better on the tests."

He said he’s found in most cases that parents welcome the chance to know how their children are faring in school.

"I can’t tell you how many times (a parent) has said, ‘If I would have only known about this four weeks ago, I would have stepped in.’  "

Kenney said students in Vicenza will soon have access to the software as well. They’ll each be given their own accounts that will let them see their grades and assignments as the year goes along. They won’t be able to use GradeSpeed to communicate with teachers, though.

Students might also appreciate that while their parents have easier access to their grades, others do not. Only teachers and administrators can access information on more than an individual student.

Using GradeSpeed

Parents can set up a GradeSpeed account online.

They should visit http://dodea.gradespeed.net, click on "parent" and follow the instructions. Personnel at the school will verify the information provided to ensure that the account is legitimate. An account should be accessible a day after it is requested, officials say.

DODEA is currently using the software for students only from grades four through 12. And teachers generally aren’t required to post grades or attendance every day. DODEA officials expect greater use by parents and teachers as the school year progresses.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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