COVID-19 is even impacting grading

Pass/fail is passing and failing.

Some students applaud the move that some schools are making in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, which is to do away with letter grades for the spring semester. They say it’s only fair since the disruption has been so significant and likely not shared equally.

Others, though, are complaining that such a move could affect scholarships and job offerings. How will academic performance be determined if there are no grades and pass/fail is the only measure?

And still other schools are giving students the opportunity to choose between the two, an option that also comes with controversy. Students argue that it should be an even playing field, and that opting for letter grades doesn’t allow for it.

Some of the nation’s top law schools — such as Harvard and Columbia — have moved to pass/fail. It’s estimated that 100 or so schools have decided to do so.

Harvard initially wanted to give students an option, but the backlash was significant. The school was concerned that the issue was causing yet more stress and needed to be settled.

“At this moment, when you have so much to cope with and deal with, we thought it important for you to be devoting your mental and emotional energy to something other than worrying about whether to opt into CR/F for the semester,” an email to the students read.

Students who support the move to pass/fail argue that not all students are equal. Some may have children or ill relatives and face more hardship than their peers.

Since schools have moved to online learning, the playing field may have shifted in other ways, too. Some students may have more comfortable settings and better technology.

Still others don’t react to stress as well as others and could suffer academically.

In a memo to faculty, Cornell noted its reasoning: “Many of our students will be studying for the balance of the semester in very trying conditions. Some will have obligations to family and distractions that they do not face in Ithaca. Some will face anxiety about the wellbeing or even survival of loved ones. All will face the anxiety of not knowing how this crisis will affect the overall job market and their individual prospects in it. They will need to face these anxieties without the direct support networks they have built on campus.”

However, those arguing for continuation of letter grades worry that their effort and hard work may not be rewarded.

At some schools, the issue is causing division among students. At the University of Chicago, for instance, one student told the university's newspaper, The Chicago Maroon:

"A lot of students have paid a pretty exorbitant [amount] of money to attend Chicago Law. I'm sure that a lot of the expected value for students is quality of education and networking, but grades are a big part of that too, because of the signal they send to employers. Grades clearly matter.”