The Shock of Pass/Fail Grades

By: Emily Orman

With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting every aspect of life, it comes at no surprise that grades are the newest addition to the never ending list.

Instead of receiving a letter grade at the end of the semester that contributes toward an overall GPA, students in Oregon will now receive a pass/incomplete grade. This means that any student above a 60% at the end of the course will receive the same “grade”— and recognition— as the student who scored a 100%. 

In the wake of the new grading system, many teachers have found it difficult to motivate their students without the pressure of grades. 

“I’ve purposefully pared down what I’m teaching to really essential skills,” said English teacher and Dean of Students Kristy Knoll. “I’m also trying hard to keep a very regular schedule.” 

One of the most strong points that pushed towards implementing the pass/fail system was to ensure there was an equal opportunity to learn. Many students do not have access to wifi at home or suffer with other technological issues, so having grades depend on unpredictable factors wouldn’t be fair. 

“I understand that going pass/fail helps with equity issues as it isn’t fair for a student that can’t connect via the internet to receive a D or F that will affect GPA simply due to equality and access,” said Knoll. 

In addition to the struggle of motivation in the wake of pass/fail grades, students are also faced with confusion surrounding how the new grading system will affect their GPAs.

However, in a pass/fail grading system, the grade bump associated with taking an AP class has been removed.

“It’s frustrating that AP classes don’t have their higher weighting this semester because AP students have put in a lot of work over the year and deserve to be rewarded for their dedication,” said sophomore Jessica Orrell. 

Orrell, along with many other Storm students, has challenged herself with numerous AP classes this year. Though devastated that her grades will not reflect her effort, Orrell acknowledges the positives of the pass/fail system. 

“Right now, I think choosing pass/fail grades is a good thing to do. It can be especially difficult to do your best work at home when there’s not a lot to motivate you at home,” Orell said. 

In an anonymous survey of Storm students, 32% of students were in favor of the pass/fail system, 40% were against it, and 28% had mixed feelings. Many of the responses in favor of the new situation were centered around stress and equal opportunities, saying that without pressure of grades, everyone has the same opportunities for success. However, the 40% that didn’t like pass/fail grades were typically most worried about GPA, saying that their hard work for the year is no longer being shown numerically

Although the new pass/fail grading system is controversial. While a student’s GPA may be lower given the circumstances, all highschoolers are currently in the same situation academically. The pass/fail system has been met with many downsides, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it is important to give all students equal chances for success.

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