A Fair and Compassionate Grading System During the Pandemic is a Tricky Balance

In the Santa Ana School District of California, you can now pass your classes with a 60!

Traditionally a 75 or above is considered passing but recently many school districts, seeking a more compassionate grading system during the pandemic, have adopted a pass-fail grading system or lowered their passing grade to a D or 60. But how does this affect student learning?

Not long ago Santa Ana Unified School District changed their grading policies which are “ aimed at reinforcing SAUSD’s comprehensive efforts to support student learning during this pandemic.”

While these types of grading policies can help struggling students, it can have more negative effects than we think: grade inflation, demotivation of hard-working students, a  loss in quality education, and a misrepresentation of a student’s academic life. 

Some teachers have already expressed their concerns about how “SAUSD students will have inflated grade-point averages that might not accurately reflect their readiness for a college education” Having an inflated GPA means that students could get into colleges, which they are not necessarily prepared for.

Another issue would be that some students might not be motivated to try as hard since now it would require less effort to make the same grade as before. Students who would normally take their studies more seriously would not be as motivated if they believe that other students are getting an unfair advantage, while less hard-working students would be given an unfair head start. 

Some parents have also voiced their concerns with how this might not be the right way to help out the students. “Our kids in California are already failing to learn math and ELA (English language arts) at grade level. This was before the pandemic. Now this?”

Although these policies are meant to help out students, they could result in developing a generation of students who are not receiving any useful feedback to improve or to push themselves to try harder. Students should not get free grades.

Yes. Students are living through an unprecedented time and need to be shown compassion during the pandemic. A fairer alternative would be one where students are given more time to finish assignments or resources based on their individual needs and courses they selected. Greater flexibility allows for more students to raise their grades so their transcripts are not scarred with low grades or zeros. 

Some colleges such as the University of Houston allowed their students to choose between a lettered (A-F) or a pass-fail grading system, giving the students some freedom to choose how they want their grades to affect them. The benefit of adopting a Pass-Fail system is that regardless of what grade you make in a class the only things that will appear on your transcript is either “Pass” or “Fail.”    

Schools are limited in terms of how much they can change when it comes to creating or changing grading policies because the policies have to be adopted by the whole district or state. This would require tons of money and resources, which school districts might not be willing to spend. That means, ultimately, we need to come up with our own solutions. 

I believe schools need to constantly remind themselves we are not living through a normal year. Students struggling should communicate with teachers and administrators, so they can receive the help that fits their needs. We should all speak up and pitch in our ideas to make sure we implement both fair and compassionate policies for our school community.