Pass/no credit for all? 5C students, student governments consider new grading policies

5C students and their student governments are advocating for new grading policies amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Mabel Lui • The Student Life)

With classes moving online Monday for the rest of the spring semester, many 5C students and their student governments are advocating for the colleges to further alter their grading policies this spring to ease stress on students and mitigate the added obstacles some face at home.

The coronavirus pandemic has deprived many students of once-reliable educational amenities like consistent Internet access, quiet study spaces and academic resources. Those who have moved to different time zones may also find it difficult to attend classes that now take place at inaccessible hours.

After the 5Cs announced March 12 that they would transition to online classes following spring break, Kyle Davis PZ ’21 flew across the country to move in with his older brother in Norwalk, Connecticut. He told TSL he’s been busy grocery shopping, paying rent and focusing on his brother, a bartender who was recently laid off. 

While finishing his full course load, Davis has also begun searching for a job. He’s considering taking his Zoom classes in the afternoon, sleeping and then waking up for an overnight shift to stock shelves or do inventory. 

“I’m really, really trying not to put school on the backburner, but it’s been hard,” he said.

Davis is one of several students at the 5Cs advocating for a universal pass/no credit or a double A system, which would award students a grade of either A or A-. He argues that, despite students’ ability to succeed academically during the pandemic, a new grading policy would level the playing field. 

“I don’t think anyone should have to disclose what they were struggling with during this pandemic,” Davis said. “I think universally, we should all take that burden as a community, and as a school as well.”

The universal pass and double A system, among several different options, are being discussed by student governments and faculty at some of the five colleges. 

“I’m really, really trying not to put school on the backburner, but it’s been hard.” 

– Kyle Davis PZ ’21

Pitzer Student Senate formally recommended a universal A policy, which would automatically award all students A’s regardless of class performance, to the school’s Faculty Executive Committee in a letter Tuesday. 

In a survey conducted prior to Tuesday, over 40 percent of Pitzer students supported the policy in each of 8 rounds of voting. Other popular proposals included an A/A- grading scale with no fails and A/A-/no credit. 33 percent of the student body responded within 24 hours, Pitzer Student Senate President Clint Isom said in an email Tuesday. 

In a Senate meeting held Sunday, Pitzer Dean of Students Dan Hirsch said college faculty generally supported adopting a universal pass policy, but are waiting to hear student feedback. A group of sixty faculty members discussed grading proposals last Thursday, according to Hirsch. 

ASPC is currently discussing grading policy options with faculty members as well, vice president of academic affairs Isaac Cui PO ’20 told students via email Tuesday. ASPC will discuss proposals Thursday and hear student input Friday.

According to Cui, Pomona Dean of the College Robert Gaines and the school’s Faculty Executive Committee are considering multiple options, including extending the pass/no credit deadline to the last day of classes or instituting universal pass/no credit. They’ve also considered a policy which would make classes pass/no credit by default, but allow students to opt to get a letter grade until either the last day of classes or after receiving final class grades.

At a faculty meeting Wednesday, Gaines said that the school is not considering a universal A or A/A- policy, but is trying to work with the other schools in the consortium to develop a consistent policy.

“Right now at Pitzer the motion on the floor is for all students to get As in all classes. We’re not going to go along with that,” Gaines said. “This is a source of real tension among the academic deans … right now, so I would hope we can be consortial and collegial as possible.”

ASPC is taking into account results from a survey published by 5C Students for Grade Equity across social media over the weekend, which asked students about their current learning environments and opinions on several grading policies. ASPC was involved in developing the survey, Cui told TSL via message.

The survey received over 2,500 responses, according to Cui, and a team of students is now writing a report that summarizes the data, in order to provide guidance to 5C faculty.

Before the survey closed Monday, organizers said via email that a universal B+ to A grade floor and grade inflation, as well as a proposal to extend seniors’ thesis deadlines, had already received broad support.

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ASCMC also discussed alternative grading policies at a meeting Sunday and is currently working on a proposal, ASCMC President Johnson Lin CM ’21 said via message.

Grace Wang CM ’21 is an international student who has been forced to stay with a friend in California instead of flying to family in Vancouver, Canada or Beijing, China. She told TSL that she is busy worrying about her parents and her grandparents in China, and that she supports a universal pass/no credit system.

I believe the priority should be to spend time with family and to take care of family, and academics should come second,” Wang said. “And I believe that universal pass/fail will allow a good portion of the student body to really focus on their families and manage their stress in this giant crisis.”

“We shouldn’t pretend that this is a normal time for us to continue schooling.”

– Grace Wang CM ’21

“We shouldn’t pretend that this is a normal time for us to continue schooling,” she added.

Wang believes universal pass/no credit is “the most fair to everyone,” and that the current system benefits some students more than others.

Maya Kurkhill PZ ’23, a member of Pitzer’s Academic Planning Committee, also argued against an opt-in pass/no credit system in an email to students Thursday.

“Although some of us may be able to keep working for the grade, a lot of us don’t have that option,” Kurkhill said in the email. “An opt-in [pass/no credit system] may hurt students who don’t have the resources to continue the most, as they are penalized in relations to their peers who look more competitive.

But some Pitzer senators argued Sunday that letter grades are important for merit scholarships and graduate school applications. Others worried that systems that didn’t have a significant grade range would cause grade inflation or disincentive students from doing their best work in a class.

Davis thinks, however, that if normal grades are still an option, some students will push beyond their limits to achieve certain grades. While 5C students are uniquely capable of succeeding in their studies from home, he said, in difficult circumstances, “our priority shouldn’t be there.”

“Just because I can carry the load doesn’t mean it’s not heavy,” Davis said. “The institution should take that load off of us. They should say prioritize social distancing, reducing the curve, being with your family, being able to be safe.”

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This article was last updated April 1, 2020 at 10:10 p.m.

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