Several colleges and universities have instituted pass-fail grading during the coronavirus pandemic (“A lot to worry about besides school grades,” Los Angeles Times, Mar. Several colleges and universities have instituted pass-fail grading during the coronavirus p 29). It’s unclear whether the new system will remain in place when classes eventually resume.
Whatever happens, however, it’s worthwhile taking a closer look at pass-fail. UC Santa Cruz decided to eliminate pass-fail grading decades ago because graduate schools complained that it did not allow them to rank students. Moreover, pass-fail tends to be pass-pass regardless of the work done by students. I think that a little competition among students motivates most of them to study harder and learn more. I’m not talking now about cutthroat competition, which I believe is counterproductive.
Supporters of pass-fail grading say that students are already under enough pressure without adding to it. They have a point. But employers still want to be able to sort out applicants for jobs, and they tend to look at traditional grades as the best way to do so. As a result, what seems a good idea at the moment may shortchange students later on.
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