With the school year just getting underway, I’ve been thinking about all of the information that I will have heading my way – grades, report cards, parent-teacher conferences, interim progress reports, and, in some cases, the online grade book. It’s a lot of information to digest about my child’s performance and I worry about whether I am focusing on the right things.

The online grade book is one of those places where I’m just not as excited about it as perhaps other parents. To be clear, I don’t have an issue with digital grade books (I’ve pretty much always used some form of one as a teacher), but with having access to the inner workings of a teacher’s grade book as a parent.

My trepidation comes from several places. I really don’t want to fall into the trap of treating the grade book the same way that I handle Facebook or Twitter where I am constantly looking for the latest update. I’m also wondering if in seeing the grades that I’m worried about the right things because like many kids I get distracted by the grades instead of thinking about whether my daughter has become proficient with the material.

While I do want my kids to get good grades, what I really want them to achieve is proficiency with the materials that they are studying. Merriam-Webster defines proficiency as being “well advanced in an art, occupation, or branch of knowledge” which is what I want to have happened as they approach the topic. The challenge is that grades and proficiency don’t always align.

It’s important to know that proficient doesn’t automatically mean a grade of 100. Remember, a proficient major league baseball player doesn’t hit the ball 100% of the time. What I really want to know from the teacher is not what grade my child got on a test, but whether she is understanding the material? Is she growing from the feedback that she is receiving? Does she understand the material well enough to move onto the next topic?

Unfortunately, an online grade book isn’t going to answer these questions, but it can help you know when to ask them. Use your online grade book as a trigger to regularly communicate with your child’s teacher. Ask questions about what the grades mean and what you can do to help keep your child moving towards that goal of proficiency.

Proficiency goes beyond mastery of the material, though. It means developing the student skills that will translate into future success in school and in life. Here, the online grade book can help you support your child’s executive functioning growth which is a key part of these student skills. Have a child who works hard on an assignment at home and then mysteriously forgets to turn it in? The online grade book will let you know. Some online grade books allow you to connect the calendar of assignments into your digital calendar or your child’s. This is a great way to check for accuracy in your child’s paper homework planner or just a way to teach them how to use a calendar to keep track of assignments.

Of course, the caveat of watching out for too many notifications goes for online grade book apps, too. You don’t want to be pulled into your child’s grades every time that you look at Instagram. Instead, tailor the notifications to those that will help you help your child and minimizes your constant checking. Model this with your child and you’ve got a place to talk about engagement with our phones.

Like most tools, the online grade book isn’t evil; it’s just complicated and complicated means approaching it with just a little bit of intention to avoid it taking us straight down the rabbit hole.