OPINION: Mandatory universal pass/no credit is a terrible solution

A drawing of a graded paper. The 'A' the paper was originally awarded has been scratched out in red and replaced with a 'P.'
(Natalie Bauer • The Student Life)

There is a lot of debate right now about how grading should work this semester, given these chaotic times. But amidst these discussions, there is a general consensus: A grading policy that is solely based on the traditional letter scale is unfair.  

Almost everyone seems to rightfully acknowledge that grading this semester should be different.

However, I do not like some of the solutions that people are bringing forward.

For example, one popular solution that seems to have a high approval rate amongst students is to adopt a mandatory universal pass/no credit for every class, with the letter grade not being an option for students.

In other words, this solution poses that every student will obtain a P on their transcript for every class that they took for the spring 2020 semester (unless they fail the class and therefore receive no credit), no matter how hard they worked or what they accomplished.

This is unfair.

This is because, like many fellow students, I don’t consider my GPA right now to be ideal, and I am banking on this semester to bring it back up. Last semester, I got a nasty surprise when I received a C on my transcript. Naturally, I swore that I would rectify that error by doing my absolute best this semester and in doing so, bring my GPA back up. 

Nothing would stop me — not my chronic inattention, not my terrible time management. Nor do I plan on letting COVID-19 derail my dreams.

I have no choice; not only am I trying to get into a good graduate school (or perhaps a good law school), in doing so securing my future, but I also am trying to get into my study abroad program of choice.

Right now, my future is in jeopardy because my GPA is not high enough for me to get into my study abroad program, something that will greatly expand my worldview. And since the application due date is in the middle of the next semester, this semester is the only opportunity for me to bring my GPA back to a reasonable level.

So far, I am on track to achieving my goal.

However, initiating a mandatory pass/no credit grading policy, or anything that removes the chance to improve my GPA, would take that opportunity away from me. And, based off of the ambitious climate present at the 5Cs, I know that I’m not alone in wanting letter grades.

Each of the 5Cs should therefore implement a policy that allows students to receive some form of letter grades, whether that’s the double A system, an opt-in letter grade option or a variation of these grading policies that allows students to improve. 

Whatever allows me to get my GPA up.

Now, I realize that many students are not in a situation that permits them to do their best academically, facing near-insurmountable challenges such as lousy internet connections or even homelessness. This puts them at risk of failing classes, if classes were graded normally.

I recognize that keeping the traditional letter scale would be grossly unfair, as it would blight the transcripts of many socioeconomically disadvantaged students, many of them people of color, which would only exacerbate the injustices that they face — adding yet another obstacle for success.

Thus, I wholeheartedly support grading options that allow students to opt-in to a pass — since students rarely fail classes under normal circumstances (Pomona College does have a 93 percent graduation rate), punishing them for circumstances that they cannot control would be a gross injustice.

However, many students apparently believe that giving students the pass option is not enough. It must be imposed on everyone.

People say this because they realize that in a competitive world, grad schools and other institutions that factor in GPA prefer students who get As or even Bs over students who get Ps. 

Therefore, they argue, since this is a semester defined by abnormal circumstances, it would be unfair to include an opt-in letter grade option since it would disadvantage students who would be forced to accept the pass, making them less competitive than those who accept the letter grade. 

But mandatory pass/no credit would disadvantage everybody, since it is extremely unlikely that all colleges will implement this policy. Pitzer College, for example, has already implemented pass/no credit with a letter grade option, though that decision, like everything else, may change. 

Universal pass/no credit can also put students at a disadvantage since it prevents them from showcasing their accomplishments. And it also is unfair to the students who, despite extremely difficult circumstances, are still producing high quality academic work.

I don’t know about you, but I think that such people should be rewarded for their hard work and adaptability instead of being dragged down to what essentially amounts to a C.

The 5Cs are prestigious institutions defined by innovative, ambitious students, a tradition that shouldn’t crumble under duress. (The 5Cs should have approved more housing requests, especially if that would mean better academic performances.) Negating the accomplishments of many students just because of institutional failings is antithetical to what Pomona, Pitzer, Claremont McKenna College, Scripps College and Harvey Mudd College stand for.

Therefore, giving students the power to choose what path they want to take, rather than imposing that choice on them, is the most just option that colleges can take in these trying times. 

John Gibson PO ’22 is a history major from Kayenta, Arizona, a town with questionable internet on the Navajo Nation. Though he loves the scenery at home, he misses Claremont. He is also praying for all of you.

Facebook Comments