Should we move to pass/fail?

Victoria Gill-Gomez

Opinion Editor

Well, other schools have done it. Some of the Ivy Leagues have moved to the pass/fail grading system, so why did Washington College?

Happy first or second week of virtual classes. Universities and colleges around the country are steadily transitioning into the routine of online classes. While many experiential courses seem incapable of fully being taught online, administrators have taken the chance to switch grading requirements either to a pass/fail system, completion, or no switch at all.

Due to my classes that are all theory and writing-based, I am not missing any experiences besides being alongside my cohort for in-person discussions. The WC administration informed students via email last week about an extended period for withdrawing from classes and switching to pass/fail.

This week, the administration again addressed the switch to all courses transitioning to pass/fail on formal transcripts with the caveat that actual letter grades will be submitted from the faculty. If students, for whatever reason, need to have a transcript with the letter grade, the registrar will calculate it for them.

Yes, this does seem silly and a lot more work for everyone involved. Some students voiced frustration to me about how WC should have instead made the switch optional for some students and not others.

I wonder about the many groups of students that encompass the campus community. There are athletes who depend on their grades to be eligible to perform, and the same goes for others in Greek Life or honor societies. There are students who attempt to maintain or boost their GPA in order to be eligible for loans, scholarships, or fellowships. Establishing a pass/fail system at WC would mean cumulative GPAs would remain stagnant.

Even though that is not exactly what the registrar is doing – there are actual underlying grades within the “P” and “F” – it creates more mayhem for these groups of students. This disregards the hard work individuals put in for a specific grade. Students even worry that future employers who see this on a transcript will bring negative connotations about their coursework.

Even with these negative feelings towards this grading system, it is time to shift our standards on why this is okay.

The college community is not new to food and housing insecurity. Many students would have chosen to switch to this new grading system was most likely to reduce the stress of this transitional period and the interrupt their established academic routine.

Jenny Davidson, professor of English at Columbia University recently addressed in The Washington Post that students have other pressing matters such as routine income for everyday necessities, lack of digital connection for their classes, and maybe even leaving their textbooks at school.

“Strip down work expectations to the bare minimum; introduce mandatory pass-fail at the very least (opt-in pass-fail would just put undue pressure on our most driven students, many of whom already suffer from chronic anxiety and depression) and consider giving enrolled students A grades as a default; and work to wrap classes up as quickly as possible in most cases, so students can turn their full attention to other pressing matters,” she said.

Educators are working tirelessly to help transition their students. Some educators, and even those who home school say to just require the bare minimum or else everyone will get burnt out right away.

However, it is not as easy to give everyone a passing grade. Davidson mentions that she is a tenured professor without worry of any fear of consequence and acknowledges this privilege not many others have. WC is home to many talented visiting professors and assistant professors who do not have that power.

“It’s time to abandon our preconceived ideas about what needs to happen in a college class for a student to get credit for it” Davidson said.

Education is not just about success but ethics as well. Any educational system teaches up-and-coming innovators how to be a better member of a community. Mastery of new concepts and material must be paired with self-care. Many students face mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, and substance abuse. We are in a time where it is easy to submit to the numbness of uncertainty. Still, maybe this is the time to let go of perfection and ease into the idea to take it one slow day at a time and accept the need to reduce stress. Give in to just “being” instead of thinking everything we involve ourselves in must have a finish line.

At first, I was all too concerned for the state of graduating seniors and credits. But everything is still uncertain. Everyone is in the same boat.

I know this will cause a headache for many members of the College community, but consider the financial, health, and emotional demands of others as we have done so far during this time of pandemic.

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