Opinion: No Reason to Get Rid of Normal Grades in Distance Learning

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As we finish the fourth week of distance learning, the Sequoia Union High School District is deciding whether to keep traditional grading or move to either a Pass/Fail or Hold Harmless grading model for the semester. 

In an email sent on Friday, April 10, Principal Simone Rick-Kennel has advised teachers that ‘less is more’ and that total work time should not surpass two hours per week, and three hours per AP class, which means all lectures, activities, and homework. In a normal week of instruction, students have 235 minutes of instruction per class, which is just five minutes shy of four hours per class, not counting hours of homework per week. This is the equivalent of cutting the minutes in each class by half, and getting rid of all of the hours that students spend doing homework every night.

The argument for the reduction in class time is to take into account the difficulties of distance learning; it might take students longer to figure out their assignments in a new online format, or they might have questions that are difficult to address online. Students might have new or increased duties during the shelter-in-place, such as caring for siblings and cooking for the family. But now, students will only be actively working on schoolwork for less than half of the usual time to begin with. Teachers are checking their email frequently, and are receptive to any circumstances which might make a student unable to complete parts of their distance learning. Teachers need to take into account the struggles that students are facing, and grade the student accordingly based on what the student is able to do at home. 

In almost all classes, M-A students have been in their classes for three quarters of a school year and are well acquainted with their teachers and classmates. At this point in a student-teacher relationship, it should not be hard for a student to communicate with their teacher if they are having any problems at home. Students who do not have the resources at home to complete their assignments in the same capacity that students with all of the resources can should do what they can to the best of their ability; with ample communication, teachers will be able to understand this situation, and reflect it in their grades. It is a responsibility of the teachers to grade the students on what they are able to do to the best of their abilities during distance learning.

In the same email sent on Friday, Kennel introduced “Work Day Wednesdays” to begin next week, where teachers will not assign new work. Kennel recommended that students catch up and finish assignments as well as take a break from schoolwork and check in on friends. This is the perfect time for students to communicate with their teachers if they are having trouble with any aspect of distance learning. Instead of changing the entire grading scale and giving the same academic credit to students who have a C or D versus an A in the class, which a Pass/Fail grading scale does, we as students need to be flexible, communicate, and still put in the effort to learn, even in a different environment. Teachers will be able to decide what counts as a Pass versus a Fail, but teachers will likely maintain the typical grading scale with passing from 60% up. 

Another argument against Pass/Fail grading is that a wide range of different academic strategies fall within the simple word ‘Pass’ on a transcript — a student that has fought to improve their grade and go the extra mile to achieve an A will receive the exact same credit and consideration as a student who barely passed with a D; there is no way within a Pass/Fail grading system to differentiate students. This effort is not just from distance learning; this effort comes from the first three months of the semester, when students were on campus. A student’s work from this part of the semester should not be disregarded as it would be in a Pass/Fail grading system.

Moving from a traditional grading scale to a Pass/Fail will decrease motivation for students to reach for the next letter grade, especially if they hover at the border. If nobody will see that you got a B of 80% rather than a C of 79%, why bother to go above and beyond and push yourself academically? 

Pass/Fail may be accepted by colleges, but this will not be without consequence when admissions try to gauge the achievement of a student during this time. “[In a Pass/Fail or Hold Harmless model], this idea of equity only extends to grades, and in attempting to create equity in regards to grades, the decision worsens overall equity by increasing the importance of the more unequal aspects of college admissions,” said junior Ryan Jiang. “For example, with pass/no pass, extracurriculars are going to be weighed more heavily. Students who come from a family with a lower financial status may not have the opportunity to participate in extracurriculars to the extent that richer people [have].” 

As long as students are able to communicate effectively with their teachers, and teachers are able to take into account student work hours, care for siblings, and home environments that are not conducive to learning, there is no reason to move from a traditional grading scale.

Sarah Marks is a senior. This is her third year as a journalism student. She looks to continue writing news and sports articles as well as expand and write about issues in the school and surrounding communities.

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