Shelter and pass: letter grades should not be given out this semester


Caroline Goodhart

On Tuesday, April 7th, Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD) sent out an email announcing that all TUHSD schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year. This decision was made collectively by the Marin County Department of Public Health and the Marin County Office of Education. The subsequent shift to online school brings a flood of questions on what the new protocol will be, and how we will go about learning for the remainder of the year.
The Distance Learning plan states, “According to the California Department of Education while delivering distance learning, grades are to be used to inform instruction and shall not be punitive.” The learning plan also suggests the possible implementation of a pass-fail grading system. The Tam district’s final decision is still being discussed and will be announced the week of April 13th.
While there are benefits to continuing with the four-point grading system, the logical solution is to shift to pass-fail grading. It would be unfair to give students letter grades, given that they have to learn on their own. Additionally, there is no way to accurately test from home; there is simply too much room for dishonesty and technical issues.
With most US states on strict lockdown, many people are feeling panicked. There is no need to add to the stress with pressure to perform at high academic levels while out of school. Students should be relieved of some of the burdens that high school weighs on their shoulders, and not be expected to accomplish the same amount of high-quality work at home.
As for myself, and many others, the shift to online classes has proved to be challenging. Assignments and learning plans have changed, and troubleshooting technology can be overwhelming for teachers. While some teachers use Zoom or Google Meets, students have been left to learn the material on their own. It is not fair to leave students to their own devices and expect them to perform at the same level. Concurrently, teachers should not be expected to lower their standards and reward students with undeserved grades.
One issue with online classes is that they utilize online testing, which can not be effectively regulated. Teachers can ask for dignity and honesty, but students still have access to the internet. Currently, there is no viable way to ensure that test results reflect learning. Using the pass-fail grading system would reduce the pressure on students to cheat in order to receive desired grades.
A potentially negative impact of pass-fail grading is the inability to present colleges with letter grades. With the pass or fail grading system, it is difficult for students to stand out. The pass or fail grading system removes GPA’s, making it impossible to have a complete four-year cumulative GPA. However, colleges understand the panic and are certainly not oblivious to the pandemic considering most have also shifted to online learning. The UC system took steps on Wednesday, March 25 when they made a push to be flexible in these trying times. Both the University of California and the California State University systems have suspended their requirement for letter grades this semester. The UC system applications for the class of 2021 are going to be standardized-test-optional. The Cal State system is planning on making admission exceptions for students who were unable to complete courses.
Though it would be ideal for many to be able to present a GPA and letter grades, in the midst of the crisis grading should not be our number one priority. Pass-fail does not prohibit students from learning and seems like the obvious route to take for the rest of this school year. The number one priority for TUHSD and other high schools and colleges across the nation should be to help students transition to online school be as stress-free and smooth as possible.