Grading changes implemented in light of COVID-19 pandemic prompt student concern

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In light of the COVID-19, or the new coronavirus, pandemic, campus has implemented grading changes for spring 2020, including defaulting all undergraduate courses to the pass/no pass, or P/NP, grading system.

Campus detailed the grading changes in a campuswide email sent March 20. Although undergraduate classes will be P/NP by default, students can switch to the usual letter grade option until May 6. Campus administration has also authorized the temporary suspension of some regulations, allowing classes taken on a P/NP basis to count toward a degree or a minor.

“It’s important that school continue, because people need to graduate, or to finish their coursework and move on to the next semester’s work,” said Graduate Assembly President Adam Orford in an email. “But the crisis has created new barriers to learning, teaching, and grading, and it’s not realistic to expect grades to mean the same thing right now that they did this time last year.

According to the College of Letters and Science website, capped majors should be announcing how they will take P/NP grades from this semester into account for major applications as soon as possible.

The economics department announced on its website that the GPA requirement for admission to the economics major will be lowered and no letter grades from spring 2020 will be considered. The College of Engineering announced that applications to most majors within the college will be reviewed holistically and less emphasis will be given to spring 2020 grades, according to its website.

According to ASUC Senator Nicole Anyanwu, there are multiple issues with the grading changes implemented by campus administration, since pre-med students may feel they cannot choose a P/NP grade without compromising their applications to graduate schools.

The Harvard Medical School announced on its website that the school will accept P/NP grading for spring 2020 coursework only if the college or university has chosen to exclusively award P/NP grades.

“A lot of people around me are going to med school, and they need those grades and that GPA to actually count,” said Ash Reining, a campus freshman.

According to spokespeople from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Johns Hopkins Medicine, these schools are still in the process of deciding how grades from spring 2020 should be assessed.

In light of this situation, Anyanwu is advocating for a mandated P/NP system for all classes or a system in which 90% of students in every class would receive some variant of an A, with the remaining 10% receiving a B+. These alternate systems would be more accomodating for all students, Anyanwu said.

“We have students who have lost their jobs, who are facing difficult family situations, students who need to support parents who’ve been laid off,” Anyanwu said. “We need to be flexible in the face of a global pandemic, which has caused a lot of extenuating circumstances for students.”

Campus sophomore Marisol Montoya Aguilar added that students on academic probation are also in a difficult situation, as they may feel pressure to take the graded option to improve their GPA despite a compromised learning environment.

The coronavirus outbreak has also increased the burden on GSIs, Orford said.

“All students still must receive grades. Even if they take a course pass/no pass, we have a grade for them in case they change their mind, or in case it comes up in the future,” Orford said in an email. “GSIs are going through a lot right now too, and I hope that individual course instructors take actions to reduce the grading burden as much as possible since this is the case.”

Alexandra Feldman is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.