CMU should not accept pass/fail grading this semester

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While the school continues to change its policies to reflect a slow, but present progress away from COVID-19, some would prefer they re-integrate early-pandemic grading policies. While the well-being of every student must be prioritized, we have to recognize that alternative grading policies are no longer feasible, or in most cases, necessary at all. Such proposals are no longer grounded by the clear and present chaos of the school’s sudden shift to online learning, and the trauma associated with the early pandemic.

The school primarily adopted a temporary pass/fail-like grading system so students and teachers could adjust to learning that was both completely remote and completely new. To call Zoom University an uncertain and problem-ridden environment wouldn’t do it justice. As such, a pass/fail system was used to ease everyone’s sudden transitions to online instruction. Now, however, nearly all students have had at least half a year to accommodate their schoolwork, schedules, and technology to adjust to circumstances that really shouldn’t be too new or shocking to anyone at this point.

Many schools also introduced their options for pass/fail grades to ease the shock and panic that came with being sent home during the first few months of the pandemic. Nobody could have foreseen being sent home, so the easing of worries regarding grades helped to absorb some early shocks. Now, if all classes were to switch to online-only tomorrow, most would be both familiar with and accustomed to online-instruction since the majority of classes already take place online. The hybrid model ensures all students are familiar with online learning, so a sudden transition to remote-only learning shouldn’t be shocking enough to lower grading standards for anyone who isn’t dealing with other extenuating circumstances.

The desire of many to maintain pass/fail options reflects the larger problems of dealing with the pandemic. We can either put everything on hold or accept that this is going to be the new normal, and we must move forward as though it is. When many schools first closed, they presented their closures as a sort of spring break. If nobody thought ahead and looked at the possibility that COVID-19 could be with us for years, we would not have adapted to the new normal by resuming learning, and the whole pandemic would be treated as one big spring break with everything canceled accordingly. Similarly, stores could have just closed and laid-off workers until further notice. Instead, they recognized the long-term nature of the pandemic and chose to adapt in ways that would allow them to reopen with new safety measures. As a school, we can either treat this pandemic like a temporary break, or we can accept that this is the new normal. Regardless of whether the school eventually opts to universally alter its grading policies, it’s important to remember that large-scale changes will not really harm the academic reputation of the school and that the well-being of those who cannot adjust to the pandemic must always be prioritized.

There is little sense in regressing to a policy that was temporarily implemented for the very start of the pandemic. We entered the semester with the understanding that grading standards would mostly be those from before the pandemic. While I agree that our mental health must be prioritized, those who have not adjusted to the new normal or who are experiencing their own traumas need and deserve as much individual help and attention from the school as possible.

As most have adjusted to the circumstances and nature of the pandemic, we have to face the reality that, unless everyone is sent home, the school is not going to lower its grading standards. If you feel that you do not fit into this generalization of the student body, I encourage you to reach out and seek help from professors, academic advisers, or any other resource for help on campus. The school made it very clear that their lowering of standards was temporary, so I’d be very surprised to see them revert to their spring grading system.