View from the Classroom
Every six to nine weeks teachers face one of their less favorite tasks--grades. If they're the diligent sort, they've spent every evening of the grading period carefully recording and averaging their students' scores. For the rest of us party animals, grades mean at least a near "all-nighter" of entering scores and marking report cards.
Fortunately, there are lots of very good software titles that can speed the task of recording and averaging grades. Used well, they can even help the dedicated teacher in analyzing scores and improving instruction. Once you get over your initial fear of losing your "gradebook," an unforgivable sin in the education world, computer gradebooks are really a blast. Careful backups and/or hard copies (paper printouts) aren't a bad idea, either!
I grabbed a basic list of gradebooks from the Pure Mac Software Teaching Aids page and found a few other titles on ZDNet and elsewhere. I've also added several titles based on reader responses to the original posting of this column on MacInSchool. While at ZDNet, I did a similar search on the Windows side and was surprised to see that there was near parity in the number of offerings in gradebooks for both Mac and Windows. Not surprisingly, many of the programs below are cross-platform.
Each of these programs has its own learning curve. I've only used one of them extensively, but have taken a good peek at all the rest and checked for compatibility under System 9. (If they flunked the System 9 test, I omitted them from this column.) For organization (and possibly impartiality), I've listed the gradebook programs I've found in order from freewares to the most expensive and in alphabetical order within that organization. If you're searching for a computer gradebook, I think you'll be able to find one that suits your needs and budget from the listing below.
The venerable Eagle Gradebook (287K) is a Macintosh-only freeware offering by Rex Evans. It functions well on 68K and PowerPC Macs. The author chose a spreadsheet appearance to mimic the appearance of a traditional paper gradebook. While not updated since 1996, I couldn't make the Eagle crash under Mac OS 9 and the author states the program was targeted to work on a Mac LC under OS 6.0.5 or later! ZDNet didn't like it much in their review, but I found it about average for gradebooks.
First Class Gradebook 1.5b5 (1950K) from First Class Systems weighs in as a very attractive PowerPC or 68K offering. Built upon a relational database engine for flexibility and speed, it also carries a database type learning curve! The documentation is provided in a well-organized and thorough PDF document, along with a good tutorial. This one won't fit on a floppy disk for portability, but it will do everything for you except brush your teeth...once you figure it all out.
Teacher's Aide (84K) by Ryan Koopmans is another older, but still functional Mac-only gradebook. The documentation is limited. As the ReadMe says, "Open the sample class and play around with it for a rough idea of how the program works."
Than'l Interactive Design offers theGRADER (1104K). This PowerPC only application is designed to be simple and quick, but still store student information, comments, assignments, and calculate percentages and assign letter grades for an entire class throughout a course. I'm so used to the spreadsheet format of electronic gradebooks that I found theGrader difficult to use, but I think that was just me! I also couldn't find a raw score setting or view all students command in the application. The Grader's strength is its interface window that doesn't overwhelm those who'd prefer spreadsheets stay in the bean counter's domain.
Get out your checkbook or "the plastic!"
Gradekeeper by Daniel Ethier is a cross-platform spreadsheet type program. The $20 shareware presents a standard spreadsheet view of a gradebook that seems to perform adequately under System 9.0. It's feature set is comparable to other gradebook offerings, and it also offers a unique export function that creates an HTML document of the gradebook. Both the Mac (916K) and Windows (896K) versions were quick downloads from Daniel's site. Gradekeeper is accompanied by excellent documentation.
Easy Grade Pro by Orbis Software $49 is a favorite among readers of this column. I omitted Easy Grade Pro from the original MacInSchool version of this column and received a bunch of polite but earnest emails asking me to take a look at this one. It was and is definitely worth a peek, as Easy Grade Pro (1049K) may be the "pick of the litter" among Mac gradebooks. It performs the basic function of grade entry and averaging in an easy to learn interface. It also can do any number of things that most of the other programs don't even attempt. A Windows version is under development.
Gradebook Plus is one of the oldest and best known programs around. I've used an older version (circa 1992!) of it for years. It's the only computer gradebook I've seriously tried for any length of time. I usually keep my gradebook files on a zip disk and may enter grades at home on my beige G3, or at school on my 7500/G3. I've been known to hook an external zip to a Mac SE running System 7.0.1 and enter grades. Gradebook Plus is available in both Macintosh (402K) and Windows (912K). The Mac version is compatible back through System 6.0.2! While the individual price of $64.95 may seem a bit steep, the building version license is priced at a very reasonable $229.95, with a discount available for cross-platform site licensing as well.
Misty City Software's Grade Machine offers a lot of features and a clean, easy-to-use interface. It should, as it weighs in at a hefty $79 single user license or a $109 cross-platform user license. Site license pricing is not posted on the Misty City site. One of Grade Machines strengths is its ability to report out its data to the Misty City sister product, Grade View. Unfortunately, Grade View is offered only for the Windows platform. Demos of Grade Machine are available in both Mac (3572K) and Windows (2174K) versions.
Making the Grade by Jay Klein Productions offers lots of bells and whistles to the usual spreadsheet type of gradebook, including student birthdays, calendar functions, and a really deluxe seating chart. Demos are available for both Macintosh (1.4 MB) and Windows (2.7 MB). I had a devil of a time finding a price and a place to order the full version until I check the included MtG Product Brochure. Full versions run $99.95 with discounts available for multiple copies.
Finally, there is Jackson GradeQuick in Mac (2115K), DOS (319K), and Windows (2726K) versions. I'm always a bit put off with products that require me to make a phone call just to find the price. The folks at Jackson need to include the price up front on their web site and in the demo application.
Of all of the offerings, all still run under System 9.0 and will reliably perform the basic function of calculating grade averages. Of the gradebooks listed, only the Eagle GradeBook, Gradebook Plus, Gradekeeper, The Mac GradeBook, and Teachers Aid are trim enough to fit on a floppy.
I found myself appreciating my already-paid-for older
version of Gradebook Plus all the more. It's like a old
shoe. It fits and it's comfortable. Easy Grade Pro also
impressed me with its price, many features, and ease of use.
But if I didn't have an electronic gradebook already, I
think I'd have to make First Class Gradebook my starting
point in any search for an electronic gradebook. There is a
substantial learning curve involved, but as one
reviewer stated, "Two terms come to mind when describing
First Class Gradebook; Unlimited and bulletproof." And...I
find a third term, "free," pretty hard to beat.
In the next few weeks I'll be doing a column devoted exclusively to "cheap or free" educational software. Got an idea? Send it to me, please! I can't guarantee I'll use them all, but will give them a peek.
Roger Clary has released a new $10 shareware title, Math Wizard. My students and I got an early peek at this one, doing some last minute testing for Roger just before its November 14 release. I told Roger that my initial reaction to the new math game wasn't all that positive. It just didn't turn me on...until my sixth graders kept asking when we were going to test the program...again and again. So much for my evaluation.
Math Wizard presents four different areas of math practice. Once I got over my initial software snobbery, I found "What's Next?' to be excellent practice for the type of items students frequently find on standardized tests. It's definitely worth a download (1419K) and test drive. I think I'll buy it.
Backup columns abound:
I very briefly mentioned backups or hard copy backups earlier in this column. I'm going to repeat myself on that one, as I'm a survivor of having my electronic grade book go down in a puff of uncorrectible disk corruption. When I lost my gradebook, I was able to rebuild my grades from my lesson plan book. which doubles as a temporary grade book until I enter grades into the gradebook app, and from paper printouts.
As to backing up, Charles Moore's Backup Basics, that appeared here on Low-End last week, has some valuable information on the subject. Dave Merten at About.com's Focus on Mac Support has a couple of articles on backups and some of his recent, less-than-enjoyable experiences with data loss. If that doesn't quench your thirst for backup info, I did a couple of pieces last summer on the subject, The End is Near: Backup Now! and Orbs, Storage, and a Legacy CD. You may think the three of us all shared copy when reading the columns, but we didn't. It's just that old bug-a-boo that data loss occurs to everyone from time to time.
What? No Rant?
I know reading a column like the one above might put some of my readers into a near-diabetic coma from its sweetness. For balance, I'll also add that the folks who program commercial teacher gradebooks could use a course or two in basic HTML design for their web sites. While a couple of the freewares have no web site and you must rely on Info-Mac or ZDNet descriptions, the shareware and other freeware sites effectively impart a good idea of what their product is and does. In stark contrast, the more expensive commercial products have the most poorly designed and executed web sites I've come across in any subject grouping since I've been writing a web column. Finding the basic product or demo download, registration or ordering information, or even a minimal description of the product required considerable effort. When an individual or company asks $60-$100 for its product, I think the user deserves at least a minimally informative and user-friendly web site.
Send your feedback to Steve Wood
All links checked
and updated 7/3/2000