Powerschool May Be Having Unintended Consequences On The Well-Being of Students


Adel V.

Throughout our time from elementary school to our senior year of high school, grades are part of our routine. Usually, in elementary school students aren’t as aware of their grades, having maybe a quarterly report card that they’re not allowed to look at. However, over time, the amount of responsibility you have over grades becomes greater and greater. Here we are, in 7th and 8th grade, where PowerSchool is the primary resource for finding grades. So, how is Powerschool affecting mental health?


PowerSchool is an online grading tool used by the Arlington Public School district as well as a multitude of other communities in the United States. It’s used for students and parents to track grades and other student records, while teachers have the freedom to update grades at any time. In fact, with access to a mobile device and internet connection, students are able to check grades at any time, including school hours. The PowerSchool app itself claims to be an innovative and effective alternative to paper report cards. On the informational website, PowerSchool staff claim that, “PowerSchool’s strength is flexibility, and because of that flexibility, a school district can align PowerSchool’s presentation of information more closely to what matters to students.” However, many students have been subjected to grade stress that was not apparent before the use of PowerSchool. 


In order to investigate further, the Ottoson Insider spoke with Nina F., a 7th grader at Ottoson. After being asked about feelings of anxiety surrounding grades, she responded, “It definitely causes anxiety in some people but also pushes people to do better and aim higher.” Others, she said, are not motivated by PowerSchool. In fact, this point has come up in numerous interviews. Even though grade stress has always been present, it seems to be more common with this grading system, with many students becoming stressed due to pressure from home, pressure about the future, and sometimes even pressure from other students. Regardless, the PowerSchool platform affects each student differently. Nina, upon being asked about whether this immediate grading system causes students to compete, she immediately answered yes. 


However, not all students agree on this topic. For more information, The Ottoson Insider went to Maia P., an 8th grader. Maia stated that while distress regarding grades is certainly an issue that is currently present in society, the nationwide use of PowerSchool neither increases nor decreases the frequency of the matter. When asked about how often she uses Powerschool, Maia went on to state that local use of PowerSchool influences parent-teacher communication, and serves as a resource for families or guardians to contact teachers about their children’s marks in school as opposed to relying solely on the honesty of the children. Contrary to Nina’s, she feels that there has been no rise in the competitive attitude of students since the age of the internet, because beforehand people could look at the test scores or report cards of their classmates, leading to conflict. 


Shortly afterwards, The Insider began speaking with Mr. Colosi, a 7th grade guidance counselor. He thinks that it depends on each individual. After being asked about any increased anxiety due to PowerSchool, he replied, “..In some ways, having that information constantly at your fingertips all the time can be really stressful, especially if you’re somebody who feels the need to check it all the time.” He went on to say that it depends on each individual person using PowerSchool, “Some people might check it every day and feel fine about that and want to be updated. Other people kind of really internalize it and start to get really stressed or anxious about it, and then I think that’s when it can become more difficult for them.” During the conversation, he mentioned that dealing with grade anxiety from students was a regular part of his job. 


The grading system is not black and white, but if numerous students are suffering enough to go to guidance, feel pressure from other students, and have relationships with PowerSchool that border on unhealthy, is there a better way? In an interview with the 8th grade Science teacher, Ms. Stewart suggested that PowerSchool could be monitored and only accessible during certain times as the quarter progresses. She went on to talk about how PowerSchool is causing students to focus more on the percentage of their grade rather than the subject matter they are gaining understanding of. This means that, even though a student may have an A+ in PowerSchool, they may have learned less than the assignment intended. This, therefore, provides a mentality relying primarily on grades, not effort.  Ms. Stewart also believes that the functions of PowerSchool cause us to lose context of one assignment versus another, because the impact an assignment has on your grade is dependent upon the number of tasks that have been scored so far during the quarter. PowerSchool does not promote complex learning based on performance, but rather a percentage of points gained or lost depending on whether or not a student followed a grading rubric. Instead of helping students to have easily accessible records of their academic performance, the grading website may be consequently raising stress levels and valuing irrelevant matters.


For the last interview about this subject, The Ottoson Insider went to Ms. MacEwan, an assistant principal for all of Ottoson’s 8th grade students. The Insider asked her what she thought were the major negatives and benefits of PowerSchool. “I think one of the negatives is how frequently a student can check their grades. I have some students who have checked their grades 700 times.” She told us about a case where a student checked their grades around 700 times during this year. She also told us about the discrepancy between PowerSchool and Google Classroom, which was a recurring topic among teachers and staff members interviewed. 


After talking to the students and staff of Ottoson Middle School, The Ottoson Insider learned that grades entirely depend on the person. There are so many ways, however, to make it easier for students to be able to have a healthy relationship with their grades without anxiety to the same extent. So, to answer the question about how PowerSchool affects mental health: it affects people in so many ways, but the happy medium idea on which PowerSchool is based is incredibly difficult to maintain. PowerSchool has, in fact, caused some people to become extremely reliant on grades. What can we do? We can begin to make PowerSchool accessible during certain parts of the quarter or open PowerSchool a few times during the week instead of having students depend fully on themselves throughout the process of their time at APS.