If you're a teacher who's wanted to throw away a paper grade book, now is a good time. Once you switch to a grade-book application, you won't have to do the math to determine your students' grades, and you can generate reports and class statistics in an instant. In other words, you save time.
I test-drove five grade-book programs designed for OS X: Chariot Software Group's MicroGrade 6.02, Daniel Ethier's Gradekeeper X 5.4, Matt Fahrenbacher's Perfect Score 1.1.6, Maxium Developments' Master Grade X 1.5, and Orbis Software's Easy Grade Pro 3.6. (All except Perfect Score also run on OS 9 and Windows.)
The ideal grading program should be easy to use, since teachers rarely have spare time for learning software programs. It should also offer a variety of ways for recording scores. It should be able to determine a final grade by using total points or by weighting customized assignment categories. It should help you take class attendance. And finally, it should be able to generate reports quickly.
Given these criteria, Easy Grade Pro is the clear overall winner, due to its highly polished interface, time-saving features, and reasonable price.
First Day of Class
Most of these programs take their cue from the paper grade book and employ a spreadsheetlike interface. The simple Gradekeeper has only two views, Gradebook and Attendance. Perfect Score and Easy Grade Pro have tabs for viewing additional information, such as student profiles and seating charts. The oddball is MicroGrade, which confronts you with three or four jarring windows at once.
All the programs let you import student information from tab- or comma-delimited text files, and both Master Grade and MicroGrade can also import data in specific administrative software formats, such as CIMS III Canada School Administration System files.
Adding assignments is a good way to test a program's ease of use, and doing so is a snap in all the programs but MicroGrade and -- to a lesser extent -- Master Grade. Those programs require more clicking of the mouse and hunting through menus. MicroGrade expects you to create categories and add all your assignments to them at the same time. Master Grade requires that you do a lot of tedious mouse-clicking and dragging to create assignment categories, and then apply those categories to the classes.
Being able to keep information for multiple classes in one file will save you lots of time -- you won't have to repeatedly open and close separate files as you track assignments and student data. Easy Grade Pro and Master Grade are the only programs that give you access to multiple classes in one file. This gives them a distinct edge over the other programs. Perfect Score at least lets you have multiple files open at once so you can drag and drop information between them.
All the programs except Perfect Score let you include multiple terms for a class that runs throughout the year. That knocks Perfect Score out of the running for elementary or secondary school teachers who don't want to re-create their class information each term.
Finally, if you like to do your homework by reading manuals, take note: only Easy Grade Pro provides printed documentation. The others come with electronic manuals, or none at all.
Grading through the Year
You have to set up your classes only once a term, but entering grades requires regular drudgery. All the programs let you score assignments with numbers, but only Gradekeeper, Easy Grade Pro, and MicroGrade also let you use letter equivalents such as B or D-. MicroGrade makes you type an equal sign (=) before you enter a letter grade, which is awkward. Easy Grade Pro lets you use other marks, too -- you can use a check mark (3) to show that an assignment was completed, say.
If you want to make entering scores more efficient, you'll have to sort your papers by class and alphabetize them by student first. However, Easy Grade Pro's fantastic Continuous Search Mode and Search All Current-Term Classes options let you grade without a lot of prior paper shuffling. MicroGrade offers a similar, but more limited, ability to search for students by name.
All the programs let you determine a final class grade by using total points or by weighting custom assignment categories -- no calculating required. With most of them, this is a quick, straightforward process. All except Master Grade let you drop the lowest score in an assignment category. All the programs except Gradekeeper can curve grades.
Present and Accounted For
If you're accustomed to daily cries of "Here!" then you'll appreciate the ability to track attendance. Most of the programs give you a running tally of absences, excused absences, and other attendance-related data.
MicroGrade, Easy Grade Pro, and Perfect Score also let you create graphical seating charts. Use Easy Grade Pro to create a detailed map of your classroom; Perfect Score lets you include stu-dent photos to help you learn names and thwart switcheroo pranks when there's a substitute.
Master Grade is an oddball. It provides no attendance tracking or seating-chart features. This devalues the program for many teachers. (According to Maxium, attendance tracking should be available in the next version.)
All the programs can easily create standard grade and progress reports. But Easy Grade Pro and MicroGrade outshine the others with 19 and 14 customizable reports, respectively. Gradekeeper's general options are limited, but it can combine grades from multiple files to make overarching grade and progress reports.
All the programs can export results to HTML so you can e-mail reports to students and their parents or post them on a Web site. You can also send e-mail messages from within MicroGrade. Gradekeeper, Master Grade, and Easy Grade Pro can all export reports to Edline, a password-protected Web-publishing service that many K-12 schools subscribe to. MicroGrade takes a different tack by integrating the company's own service, WebGrade, which costs extra.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Easy Grade Pro is a pleasure to use and offers numerous time-saving features that will help you get excited about school. MicroGrade stands out because of its Web export and e-mail features. However, it costs nearly twice as much and is saddled with a confusing interface that supports only one class per file. Unless your school wants the integration MicroGrade offers with its Web service, Easy Grade Pro is the better choice.