“How’s it going this semester?”

“Fine. Okay, I guess.”

“What does that mean? Are you doing well in your classes?”

“Yes, I am doing well. At least I think I am doing well. Well, I hope so, at least.”

This is an all-too-common dialogue I have with students each semester. Most of the time, I can cajole them to give me specifics–test and paper grades–and often they are doing just fine. But I do understand how a parent who participates in this same exchange can be frustrated.

For many parents, they have had access, since their student first started kindergarten, to their grades and progress. All it takes these days is access to an online portal and a few clicks and parents can find out exactly how their student is doing or contact their teacher to find out what is going on. And, more important, parents can then guide (dare I say, wag a finger at) their student to improve their grades. At the very least, parents can tell when, where, and how their student has earned the grade they did.

This is not the case in college. Unfortunately for some parents, they cannot log into their student’s courses to see what they have earned on assignments and what they need to do to improve their grades.

Moreover, because of the Federal Educational Rights to Privacy Act (FERPA), unless their student has waived their right to privacy (and this is more common than you may think), parents cannot call faculty or other officials to get information about their student either.

If you are interested in how your student is doing and want information that confirms what your student tells you–or provides more specifics than the sample conversation above–start with these steps:

First, consider why you want to know your student’s grades. Is it because you have always had access to your student’s grades and it just seems natural to expect the same while they are in college? Do you not trust that your student will share with you how they are really doing? For many parents, they are used to the comfort of knowing how their student is doing. Not having instant access can be unsettling if you are used to having it. And if their student has had trouble academically in the past, it may make you feel more comfortable knowing really how they are doing.

Next, think about the message you are sending your student when you ask for access to their grades. When you assume that they will not tell you the truth or they don’t have the ability to really know how well they are doing, asking for (or even demanding) access to their grades sends mixed messages at best: They are college students who are learning to deal with newfound freedom and they also cannot be trusted to track their own progress and make necessary changes.

Finally, coach your student for long-term success. As hard it may be to let go of this part of your student’s academic career, it is part of a long-term plan to help them develop skills in self-monitoring and self-advocacy. Instead of asking for access, practice good coaching techniques to help them track their work themselves and feel more comfortable talking about how they are doing:

  • What did you earn on your last test (or quiz, paper, assignment)?
  • How do you feel about how you are doing so far?
  • Have you checked in with your professor to confirm your progress?
  • Do you know where you can go get help on campus if you are struggling?
  • What are you doing to really learn the material in your class?
  • If you are struggling, do you feel comfortable letting us know so we can help?

Developing open, honest communication lines should be the result of any conversation about grades or access to their progress.

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