To Pass/Fail or not to Pass/Fail…


Linfield students may have the chance to opt for a pass/fail grading system

Elin Johnson, Life and Culture Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused colleges across the country, including Linfield, to change in many ways not limited to switching to online learning.

As part of the conversation around online learning, colleges are considering changing the way students are graded due to a much more tumultuous semester than anyone anticipated. 

Just as colleges across the country are switching to and coming to terms with online learning, many programs are debating whether or not to become pass / fail, or to let students make the decision for themselves. This has caused students at other colleges to argue for one solution or another.

That conversation is already being had at Linfield. Faculty and staff display a widespread consensus that they need to be accommodating towards as many different student situations as possible. Faculty will be the ones to vote on any proposed changes, and have several situations to consider. 

Just as not all learners are created equal, not all learning environments are the same. Does that mean that during a pandemic — when the level playing field of the same educational environment is taken away — students should all be graded the same?

Students face many difficulties adapting to these new changes and to online learning itself. Students may be coming home to increased responsibilities such as childcare, have limited experiences with essential tools like Zoom, or have a much harder time learning through a now primarily lecture-based class.

Option 1: Leave it as normal grades. This would put students without stable living spaces, toxic home environments, and unreliable internet at a disadvantage. With the closure of campus and the eviction of students, many don’t have a secure place to work on classwork and homework. It is unreasonable and naive of the college to expect otherwise.

Option 2: Change it all to pass / fail. This would be unfair to students who are working hard this semester to get good grades to potentially boost their GPAs, or who are looking to use their college transcripts to get into graduate programs or fellowships. However, students chose to attend an in-person, on-campus college for a reason. If they wanted to do online learning they would have gone a different route. It can’t be expected that these students get the same results out of online learning as they did during in-person learning.

Option 3: Give everyone a choice between the two. This would give students the best of both worlds, but could possibly introduce added pressure on students to choose one way or another. Additionally, it might put more of a burden on Linfield faculty and staff. The question would then be how much information about their grades would students receive before making their final decision. Could a student view their final grade before deciding to switch to pass / fail?

Whatever option is chosen, it should be a sweeping policy that encompases the entire college and not just department by department. As an interdisciplinary institution, many students at Linfield take classes in multiple departments or have more than one major or minor. It would be easiest for students if they had the same options across the board.

Finding a solution that is the most fair for the majority of students should be the top priority. Fair to the students who are trying to improve their GPAs, fair to the students who are forced to learn in a new setting that’s challenging to them, and fair to everyone in between.