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Students should be able to apply to take classes on a pass/no pass basis

The inconsistent application of pass/no pass grading is a disservice to students, but it can be fixed by a petition system that takes into account the difficult circumstances students are currently facing. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Sophia Kloster

May 29, 2020 4:04 pm

The UCLA Academic Senate’s decision to allow students to take more than one class on a pass/no pass grading basis certainly eased some of the stress during the transition to online learning.

But since this option was only extended to certain classes, many Bruins still face serious academic stress alongside the innumerable challenges posed by remote learning.

Pass/no pass grading allows students to earn credit for a class without receiving a letter grade. This grading option is essential during remote learning because it allows students, who may be grappling with unprecedented adversities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, to take courses without worrying about their GPA.

But the pass/no pass option was not applied as a blanket solution across the entire university. Individual departments still have the power to decide what grading policies best suit their courses. After all, UCLA offers a wide variety of learning experiences and a blanket solution to the intricacies of grading during online learning was unrealistic.

Though major qualifications and GPA measurements remain stagnant during remote learning, academic and mental health struggles have intensified amid the pandemic. Courses that currently prohibit the pass/no pass option should still acknowledge the unprecedented situations many students find themselves in by allowing them to petition or apply for pass/no pass grading. A petition system would acknowledge variance in classes and their significance within individual departments without ignoring the pressing challenges of remote learning.

This system could certainly help students in the economics major.

Currently, all economics students are required to take prerequisite classes for a letter grade. Kathleen McGarry, professor and undergraduate vice chair of the economics department, said this is because of the competitive nature of the major.

“Some students took those classes in fall and winter, and if they didn’t get a high enough grade they might not have qualified for the major, so it didn’t seem fair to them to then let students who took the course in spring just get a pass and get into the major,” McGarry said. “We were trying to make sure all students were treated fair because it’s so competitive to get in.”

But regardless of differing departmental dynamics, the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic affect all students— lack of resources, financial instability and increased mental health challenges are just a handful of the crisis’ side effects.

Adriana Galván, psychology professor and UCLA Undergraduate Council chair, said that the decision regarding the pass/no pass policy was made in the interest of serving students.

“We decided it gave students maximum flexibility to do what’s best for them and to attain their educational goals,” Galván said.

Now that public resources like libraries are closed, many students may not have access to the technology they need to learn online. Additionally, many students and their families face economic insecurity as a result of the pandemic, which negatively affects students’ abilities to pay for an education.

“(Students) might be sharing computers at home and not have access to all the resources,” McGarry said. “Online testing is difficult, and students are just under a lot of stress, so we don’t want to add to that when we don’t have to.”

This is why a pass/no pass option should be made available in as many classes as realistically attainable, even if students must apply for it.

Randall Rojas, an economics professor who is teaching two classes with a pass/no pass option available to students this quarter, agreed the circumstances of remote learning warrant the pass/no pass grading policy.

“Given the amount of variation on the whole environment that we have, I think it’s a good approach, at least in the short run,” Rojas said. “It’s a nice safety cushion right now to at least take some of that pressure away from the stress that the students already have.”

Allowing students to apply for pass/no pass grading even for classes that currently require a letter grade would increase the flexibility necessary of online learning. Factors that should be considered in these petitions include students’ financial status, accessibility to resources and physical and mental health. Because these elements vary immensely from person to person, it only makes sense that a decision on grading takes all of these into account.

Given, the greater availability of a pass/no pass grading option may discourage students from performing at their greatest potential. Without the threat of a class impacting their GPA, students may not learn as much as they would have had they taken the class for a letter grade.

However, there are still plenty of reasons students would choose to receive a letter grade over a pass/no pass grade given the option— GPA requirements for majors, internships, study abroad programs and more remain motivations for a student to perform at their best and receive a letter grade even during remote learning.

But while the motivation for a letter grade remains for some students, those who are experiencing extenuating circumstances must be given the option to take classes for a pass/no pass grade.

The quality of education students receive has undoubtedly declined in the age of “Zoom University.” It is only realistic to expect the quality of student work to waver in return.

But at the end of the day, students’ GPAs and mental health should not become collateral damage.

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Sophia Kloster
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