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SCHOOLS using Internet report cards to keep parents informed

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ When report card day rolled around for Pam Murphy's children, she didn't watch the mail for an official-looking envelope or dig in a backpack for a crumpled slip of paper.

Murphy had already seen the report cards online.

The mother of four in Sandy, Utah, clicked her way to end-of-year grades and teacher comments for her two oldest school-aged children last Friday, with a type of program many American schools are using to keep parents informed about their children's progress.

The days of hiding lousy report cards may soon come to an end for underachievers everywhere. School systems nationwide are uploading student information _ from grades and test scores to class schedules, discipline referrals, homework assignments and attendance records _ to the Internet. Using assigned passwords, parents can access the information anytime, anywhere.

Such systems have been around for several years, but didn't really take hold until this past school year.

For Murphy, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Mount Jordan Middle School, the system has helped her track her eighth-grade son Michael's test scores and grades all year.

``That has helped me in feeling good about the things that he's doing,'' she said in an interview Wednesday.

John Forbes, technology specialist with the Fresno, California, Unified School District, said posting grades for parents has raised expectations for students, who now know ``that more eyes are on them.''

Forbes said such systems have revolutionized both parent and teacher attitudes about student records, since teachers also can log on and easily check their students' grades and attendance in other classes. A basketball coach, for instance, can check algebra grades or unexcused absences for the entire team with a few clicks.

While viewing her son's grades, Murphy also can click on a teacher's name, and up pops a blank form with that teacher's e-mail address. Murphy can quickly toss off a note. This year, she also requested weekly progress reports, which teachers e-mailed to her.

Eduardo Alba, principal at Mount Jordan, said 40 percent of parents at the 820-student school request regular reports.

``We get a lot of neat comments from parents,'' he said. ``They appreciate the fact that they can get on anytime they want.''

Alba urges those without computers to use public library computers, while parents in other districts can use a touch-tone phone for access, much like they would to check a credit card balance.

``I had no angry parents this year,'' said Mark Koca, an El Dorado Springs, Missouri, High School technology teacher. ``They knew what their kids' grades are.''

Such Web-based systems, which include PowerSchool, K12Planet, ParentCONNECTxp and a newcomer called LetterGrade, aren't cheap. At dlrs 4,500 per high school and dlrs 5 per student, Forbes said, PowerSchool cost Fresno High School about dlrs 14,500 to implement last year. It'll cost another dlrs 2,300 for permission to continue using it this fall.

School officials and those who peddle the programs maintain that they're as secure as comparable systems that allow investors to track stock portfolios.

It's not clear how many schools are using such systems, but an official at PowerSchool, which is owned by Apple Computer and is among the most popular among a dozen systems, said about 2,700 U.S. schools use it.
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