Arlington School Board: Tannia Talento

Arlington School Board member Tannia Talento.

The effort by Arlington Public Schools to go high-tech with the distribution of student report cards appears to have hit a major snag.

Two School Board members on Dec. 19 expressed significant concerns, and a third offered a milder form of disquiet, with the school system’s decision to scrap printed report cards in favor of online reporting.

Funding for printing and distributing quarterly grades was excised from the school system’s fiscal 2020 budget as a cost-saving measure. But now that the policy has had a chance to be tried out in a real-world environment, it has not been winning rave reviews.

Nancy Van Doren and board chairman Tannia Talento voiced concerns that eliminating printed report cards is making it difficult for parents and, in turn, is leading fewer of them to actually see the grades of their children.

“In my informal polls of parents, very few have accessed those report cards,” Van Doren said. “I am very concerned about that, because that is one way in which parents monitor how their kids are doing.”

Parents do have the ability to request a report card from the children’s schools, but that’s an extra step that many may not take – and less-informed parents could mean trouble down the line, Van Doren said.

“We’re going to pay a price,” she predicted.

Talento was equally concerned, suggesting that the new online-only policy makes it harder for parents who don’t know how to easily navigate the school system’s online platforms to get the information they need.

“I’ve been hearing some concerns [about] . . . the inability of parents to access them easily online, for a variety of reasons,” said Talento.

Talento indicated she wasn’t against using online resources to replace more traditional  methods of doing things in certain cases, but like Van Doren, expressed concerns that fewer parents would get the information they need.

“I just don’t feel comfortable, as a board member, taking a risk on that,” Talento said in directing Superintendent Cintia Johnson and staff to come back with a follow-up to “determine whether this is working for our families.”

Concerns raised by Talento and Van Doren are not new; each of them raised similar issues during the fiscal 2020 budget process last spring, but could not convince other board members to scrap the proposal.

If staff can’t justify the new system, Talento suggested using funds left over from the past budget year to support printing and distribution of report cards during the final two grading quarters of the year.

(Given that the cost savings was so miniscule – Talento said it was $20,000, or about 0.003 percent of the school system’s annual budget – it’s a fair question whether there was a reason beyond cost that drove the decision to eliminate paper report cards.)

A third School Board member, Monique O’Grady, said she too had concerns, but wanted to give staff a chance to pull together data before considering switching back. The two other board members (Barbara Kanninen and Reid Goldstein) were silent.

Johnson said she would have a briefing prepared for board members. It could come as early as the Jan. 9 board meeting.

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