Opinion: The pass-fail grading option is a great idea

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In March 2020, the University of Northern Colorado shifted to all-online education as the coronavirus outbreak started threatening lives and forced all campuses to close for the remainder of the semester. In April 2020, the board proposed the satisfactory-unsatisfactory option for the following spring and summer semester. Photo courtesy of unco.edu.

Although I support the satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading option, a handful of students can’t seem to wrap their minds around the idea. I can think of many reasons the satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading option is a great alternative.

In March 2020, the University of Northern Colorado shifted to all-online education as the coronavirus outbreak started threatening lives and forced all campuses to close for the remainder of the semester.

By mid-March, schools across the State of Colorado suspended in-person teaching, but many planned to continue to assess students with letter grades. Academic leaders quickly recognized that the only way to ease tensions and anxiety for students was to shift the university to a satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading option.

This grading option eliminated the traditional A-F grading scale for the satisfactory-unsatisfactory option.

“Any letter grade that is a C- or higher would be converted to an S+; a letter grade that is a D-, D, or D+ would be converted to an S; and, an F would be converted to a U,” UNC stated.

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Students were encouraged to meet with their advisor to see if the option would be beneficial to their program.

President Andy Feinstein and his cabinet members conducted Operational Updates through video call for students and faculty. In April 2020, the board proposed the satisfactory-unsatisfactory option for the following spring and summer semester.

“We’re being very, very deliberate and intentional in looking at this because there are a lot of implications to students in going to a satisfactory, unsatisfactory or pass-fail option,” Provost Mark Anderson said.

One benefit to the grading option is the fact that it was an option. Students who chose to opt-in for the satisfactory-unsatisfactory had to submit a form through their student account. The form was available to students the first week of April. If students wanted to transition back to the A-F grading scale, they could switch until the end of May.

“This allows students the opportunity to make their final determination to keep a letter grade or opt into S/U grading once they know what their final letter grades would have been,” UNC stated.

Having to balance online education, work and other life situations, the sudden shift put students in an unpredictable place. One week, a student could have their priorities laid out. The next week, they could fall a little behind on their work due to unforeseeable circumstances.

It was great the university accepted students to option the satisfactory-unsatisfactory option weeks after the semester was over. This allowed students a final verdict after viewing their semester grades. It also let students choose the grading option for all of their classes or individual classes.

Another benefit, the grading option allowed students more opportunity to try, mess up and improve without feeling stressed, degrade their self-esteem and ruin their GPA.

According to Connect Us, students had the opportunity to make adjustments on their learning habits which ensured they met their goals without getting penalized.

“The pass-fail grading system looks at an approach which favors self-advocacy, self-assessment and self-regulation,” Connect Us stated.

Personally, I’m a hands-on learner. I don’t learn from taking endless notes and reading textbooks while completing a reading guide. It was unfortunate that students had to adapt to an instructor’s teaching methods. This satisfactory-unsatisfactory option allowed students to test which methods of learning worked for them and worry less about passing the class.

Finally, students tend to be less stressed without the traditional grading system. According to Connect Us, students stress when they must do well on assignments and tests in order to keep their grade-point average in good standing.

“There is less pressure and perceived stress because one moment of failure won’t define their grade,” Connect Us stated.

I agree. When I attended my first journalism class, I didn’t do well on the first story in News Editing. I transferred from Aims Community College to UNC with a 4.0 GPA and I questioned my major a few times because I got a D on one of my assignments during my first semester. I stressed and had
thoughts I was going to fail the class. However, I learned and adapted to my instructor’s teaching style and I’m happy to say I passed the class. If the option was put into place, I wouldn’t be as stressed and I would have been more focused on the learning aspect than a letter grade.

Caitlin Stoddard, a senior disagrees with the satisfactory-unsatisfactory option and says it is the easy way out.

“I want to earn my grades, not receive them because of this virus,” Stoddard said.

I can understand Stoddard’s stance. I agree students can take the easy way out and lack the motivation to submit their best work. The good thing about the situation, is the fact students can choose to opt-in for the satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading. It’s up to the students’ discretion. Students either find online-education manageable and easy but students attend in-person classes because they provide an instructor who can guide, ask questions and understand the material better.

UNC made an excellent decision by allowing their students to opt-in on the satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading.

Students learn differently and being forced to complete the remainder of the semester online was difficult for some students.

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