Pass/Fail this semester? Oh, come on.

The argument goes something like this: coronavirus has disrupted the remainder of the academic year so badly that final grades should be awarded as pass/fail.


I agree that the abrupt, and necessary, decision to move classes online interrupted face-to-face instruction, severing important connections faculty and students have each day. I acknowledge that many faculty are struggling to quickly and meaningfully convert their on ground classes to alternative formats. Finally, I accept that the emptying of residence halls at a host of schools has put additional stress on students as they gather their belongings and head home.

Nevertheless, one of the most important roles colleges and universities play is preparing their students for the real world. And the real world right now also is in chaos with businesses ordered to close, workers losing their jobs, people ordered to stay at home, and with a dreaded positive test for coronavirus hanging over all of us.

But the world continues, and all of us continue to have obligations to our families, our friends, our employers (or our employees).

For those of us in higher education, our students are like family. We teach him, mentor them, encourage them, advise them, and believe in them. And, yes, we give them grades, some of which they like, others of which they don’t, but always grades they have earned.

Those aforementioned important face-to-face connections will be reestablished online. Teachers will find their groove in their newly christened online classes. And students will settle in at home, a place they know well. A semblance of normalcy will soon be evident.

Reducing the grading protocol to “yeah, whatever” is not what real teachers do. And pass/fail is exactly that: “How did I do in your class?”

“Yeah, whatever. You passed.”

Grades are not a perfect indicator of how well or how much students learned. But they remain the agreed upon standard to legitimately evaluate students’ work. They cannot be dismissed as “yeah, whatever” because there is short-term disruption to learning.

What message are we sending to students if we tell them that in times of upheaval they should be expected to say “yeah, whatever” and, to borrow a cliche, mail it in? The real world doesn’t act like that; colleges also shouldn’t.


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