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Pass-Fail Seen as Option in Online School Chaos

FILE - In this May 5, 2018, file photo, graduates at the University of Toledo commencement ceremony in Toledo, Ohio. Colleges across the U.S. have begun cancelling and curtailing spring graduation events amid fears from the coronavirus.

To help reduce the confusion caused by online classes in the wake of the coronavirus, more than 190 colleges in the United States have offered alternative grading methods to give students more flexibility and control over their academic performance.

Many universities have moved to the pass/fail option, which allows students to choose which classes will count toward their grade-point average (GPA) numerically, and which classes they will take pass/fail without a numerical value.

When colleges and universities closed their campuses earlier this year and converted to online courses, several student organizations petitioned their universities to adopt a pass/fail grading system for the term.

Online courses have generally been met with disappointment and frustration by students and educators alike. “I’m not an online learner,” said Sarah Kurian, a junior from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

“It’s more difficult to engage and harder to retain information,” Kurian said.

Many university students have expressed being in favor of pass/fail during the global pandemic.

“All we want is a choice. Don’t force a system that is going to be detrimental to our grades and our GPA that we have, up to this point, worked hard to maintain. Give us the choice between the pass/fail system and receiving a letter grade,” tweeted Emma Davenport, a student from the University of Central Arkansas.

“Today my power went out and I had to sit in my car with my computer. While my phone charged so I could use my hot spot to get an important assignment done. Some people aren’t so lucky. Simply put, that is why Pass/Fail is important,” tweeted another student from Stephen F. Austin State in Nacogdoches, Texas, on Twitter.

“The pass/fail grading system is necessary because everyone is going through a different situation,” said Youjin Cho, a senior at George Mason University. “I was originally planning to stick with the letter grades, but then I decided to go back to Korea last minute because COVID-19 was getting worse in the U.S. So, for me, having the option to either choose a letter grade or pass/fail during this turbulent time gave me peace of mind.”

Other universities have adopted a universal pass/fail grading policy for the semester, instead of giving students a choice.

So far, four Ivy League schools — Yale, Harvard, Columbia and Dartmouth — have approved the mandatory pass/fail grading. Top U.S. law schools, such as Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford, also have followed by adopting a universal pass/fail grading option.

Some students, however, have also voiced concerns about that.

“The pass/fail system is a disgrace to students who have worked hard for their A’s. For me, this is my best semester, and the pass/fail system takes away my GPA, which I need for internships and many other career opportunities,” said Jasmine McCollum, a student at Tuskegee University in Alabama.