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With Washtenaw County’s two-week stay-in-place order affecting all undergraduates, students are advocating for the University of Michigan to reinstate the Pass/No Record Covid grading system used in winter 2020 for the fall semester as well.
When classes moved to an online format in March, many universities changed their grading policies to account for the challenges students may face during the pandemic. Higher learning institutions including Middlebury College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and many others offered a passing or not passing grading system for their courses.
Following the lead of these universities and others, the University of Michigan announced in March that all students would receive either a Pass or No Record Covid on their transcripts for the winter semester with the option of choosing to show their letter grade on their transcript.
Under this policy, students would receive a Pass on their transcript if they earned a C- or above. Students would receive a No Record Covid on their transcript if they got below a C-. Grades from courses that students unmasked on their transcript counted toward their GPA, while Pass/NRC courses did not.
In anticipation of students returning to campus for the 2020-2021 academic year, the University updated this grading system once again. Under this current grading policy, students who earn a letter grade below a C will receive a No Record Covid on their transcript with the option to show their grade if they prefer. All students who earn above a C will receive their specific letter grade.
Classes offered in the Spring and Summer semesters at the University were graded using the traditional letter grade scale, not the Pass/NRC scale.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said there has not been a commitment to any changes in grading for the fall semester.
“At this point, administrators have not committed to further changes but are continuing to evaluate the current learning environment,” Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily.
However, students have raised concerns about the current grading policies set forth by the University. Following the Washtenaw County Public Health Department’s recommendation for a two-week stay-in-place for all undergraduate students, Central Student Government, the largest representative assembly at the University, released a statement calling for the Pass/No Record Covid grading system.
CSG Vice President Saveri Nandigama, an LSA senior, said she has received numerous emails from students as well as faculty members who are experiencing increased amounts of stress due to COVID-19. Nandigama said because of this, it is important for the administration to adjust the grading system this term.
“Everything that existed in March, when we first implemented the past ‘No Record Covid’ still exists today,” Nandigama said. “If anything, we’re more stressed because people may have lost family members and people may have had to pick up another job because of the tuition increase.”
In addition to the call for a return to the “Pass/no record COVID” grading system, Central Student Government also suggested that the University should adopt one week during the winter 2021 semester where there are no exams or “other high stakes assignments” to account for the lack of a Spring Break.
CSG President Amanda Kaplan, Public Policy senior, said she understood why there will not be a Spring Break, given the pandemic and travel restrictions. Kaplan said that in place of Spring Break, the University should build in a week without assignments accounting for greater than 10 percent of a final grade to benefit students’ mental health.
“If we can have a week, where there are no high stakes exams … then we can ensure that students at least have a break and they have the catch up period,” Kaplan said. “Faculty want this as well so that you simulate what a Spring Break does for students academically, but don’t encourage traveling.”
On Tuesday, the Association of Big Ten Students, composed of all the student body presidents of Big Ten schools, called for administrations to implement pass/fail grading for the fall semester.
Nandigama and Kaplan said CSG has had many conversations with faculty, community members and students about these requests. LSA student Cameron Roehm is one of those working with Kaplan and Nandigama to enact these changes to grading policy.
Roehm started a petition asking University administration to “permit Pass/No Pass grades to count towards all academic requirements for the 2020 Fall Semester” and “reconsider their decision to return to a normal letter grade system despite the virtual setting.” The petition has more than 1,700 signatures as of Thursday night.
The petition cites many reasons, including the toll the hybrid semester has taken on the mental and physical health of students, uncertain financial circumstances for many students and the particularly difficult positions of international students living in different time zones.
“Despite students’ efforts to accommodate this learning format, it is clear that distance learning has resulted in a deterioration of the learning experience,” the petition states.
The petition also notes that the University would not be alone in making the change, as the University of Pennsylvania, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Virginia are all among schools that have extended their pass-not pass grading scale into the fall 2020 semester.
Roehm did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.
LSA junior Alison Fields, a transfer student in her first semester at the University, said she thinks the University should reimplement Pass/No Record Covid grading because this semester has been so volatile. She noted that with the stay-in-place order, some of her classes and exams that were previously in-person have moved online, with little time for her instructors to adapt formats.
Fields said the option to take classes Pass/Fail, available every semester, was not well-publicized this semester. Either way, she said the typical Pass/Fail option is not enough.
“Three weeks into the semester, especially during a Covid semester, isn’t enough time to gauge whether or not you’re going to need the Pass/Fail,” Fields said. “So much has changed since then. Professors have changed their policies. One of my classes moved to be online all the way… Professors are changing their procedures as the semester goes on, and we need to have the flexibility of being able to change our grading to reflect that.”
Especially for the more than one thousand students who’ve contracted COVID-19 this semester, Fields said the grading policy should be more accomodating.
“If they can’t even adjust their grades so it’s Pass/Fail instead of graded, that’s just ridiculous,” Fields said.
Daily Staff Reporter Lily Gooding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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