News | March 21st, 2020

Is Passing Better Than an ‘A’?

By: Aiyana Ishmael
Is Passing Better Than an ‘A’?

With the spread of the coronavirus disease progressing throughout the country each day, many students that are now forced into online learning aren’t so receptive to keeping the traditional grading scale. 

Like a domino effect, students from Bethune Cookman University, Florida State University and now Florida A&M University are signing petitions in hopes their university will allow a pass or fail option.

According to the Florida Health Department there are 303,181 global COVID-19 cases, 24,148 cases in the United States and 763 positive cases in Florida.

The coronavirus disease isn’t comparable to any epidemic the U.S. has faced before.

Universities across the country are taking the necessary steps to ensure safety and reduce mass-spread of the disease, but the question stands: how can students continue properly receiving their education via email, Zoom and Blackboard?

Andrew Chiwara, a sophomore agribusiness student at FAMU, took it upon himself to create the petition in hopes to get the attention of administrators. He knows logistically there are kinks in having this semester be pass or fail, but he hopes that there will be some consideration for students who struggle with online learning.

“COVID-19 has impacted my learning negatively because of the whole remote learning situation,” Chiwara said. “I personally struggle keeping up with one online class, let alone five, on top of being a resident assistant and everything that’s going on with that. It’s definitely going to be a stressful time for everyone but I’ll do my best to get through it.”

Chiwara wanted to have a “safety net” just in case he isn’t able to fully transition to completely online classes. He currently was working towards bringing his grade point average up and didn’t want this pandemic to risk that.

“I do not necessarily agree with a pass or fail system for the entire student body,” Shanel Brown, a psychology student at FAMU, said. “A lot of students are preparing themselves for graduate school, myself included, and professional schools that require certain GPA’s to be deemed satisfactory.”

The petition currently has over 3,700 signatures and the number is continuing to rise. However, some students feel as though there should be a choice on whether you want a letter grade or the pass or fail option.

“Many can argue that GPA’s do not matter or are arbitrary but that’s not the society we live in at the moment,” Brown exclaimed. “I do, however, understand students who do not have the resources to succeed in online coursework. Other universities have chosen an “opt-in” route which I believe will be better for our student body. Students can choose whether they want to finish the semester out or take the pass or fail route.”

Students like Maurice Gilbert, an economics and political science student, believes there can be some sort of middle ground for all students. Gilbert, who serves in the student senate, is communicating diligently with his colleagues ensuring that the university and state leadership arrive at the most equitable solution for all students.

“I’ll say that in my opinion, a hybrid method is the most equitable option for all students, something along the lines of pass or incomplete, with the option to change to actual letter grades,” Gilbert said. “I believe students worked hard at the beginning of the semester, and they shouldn’t be punished for a global crisis. On the other side, some students aren’t in the position or environment to perform well with the transition to online learning.”

FAMU is currently coming up with a solution, expeditiously, since the semester will be back in effect after a hectic spring break. Other universities have already made a decision on the grading criteria and students have taken to Twitter to share their concern.

“I saw a post about Michigan’s new grading system and I think that is something we should implement,” Crystal Williams, a criminal justice student, said. “Now that we are basically forced to learn completely online it’s making my coursework a bit more challenging to complete. I learn better in person and being able to ask questions right away when I need to. And with this new online learning system that’s not an option.”

And while many students are taking the time to sign the petition, some feel that it is counterproductive for students that have put in maximum effort this semester.

“I think that people should stop signing the FAMU petition to change the grading scale to pass or fail,” accounting major, Sheniah Yirmyah, exclaimed. “I hope it at least doesn’t get enough signatures to get considered. It won’t let me boost my GPA, which I was hoping to be able to do to change my resume, use it for higher criteria scholarships, and to keep my current scholarship.”

In a regular pass or fail course you must receive a 70 or above to pass the course. Anything below that is failing status. But, the “pass” on your transcript only serves as a credit, not a grade boost. Essentially, if you received an ‘A’ in a three credit class you wouldn’t get the points. For many students that is not something they want to risk.

As of late, the university has not officially announced what their plan is. They are still waiting on the state university system to formally make a suggestion on the grading policy.

“The University is currently exploring alternative grading options to assist students and faculty,” Dr. Maurice Edington, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs said. “I expect that we will have finalized our plans by the middle of next week.”