After a spring semester in which most American universities adopted some form of pass/fail grading system, or even abolished grades entirely, the vast majority planned to bring back normal marks this fall. But as the pandemic has continued to disrupt campuses and uproot student lives, at least some are going back to the more lenient days of spring.
After many meetings and much deliberation, Colorado State announced this month that its 25,000 undergraduates could switch to a satisfactory or unsatisfactory grade after final exams if they were unhappy with their marks in a particular class.
Kelly Long, the school’s vice provost for undergraduate affairs, said it was clear that many students were struggling in classes, which are mostly online, often because of less-than-ideal home situations.
“Perhaps their home environment is not conducive to online learning, or they are having to work or caring for someone who is ill, or they themselves are falling ill,” Dr. Long said. “Those are parts of the generous thinking we’re trying to do.”
Dr. Long said Colorado State had consulted with other universities and found that many administrators were also considering whether they had underestimated the impact of the pandemic. “Our peer institutions were starting to revisit the question,” she said. But so far, few have made similar announcements.
“We believe that grades have meaning,” said Justin Anderson, a spokesman at Dartmouth, which adopted a pass/fail system in the spring but returned to letter grades this fall.
But at M.I.T., one of the most rigorous schools in the country, administrators have continued to be accommodating. Students who receive a letter grade worse than a C in a fall semester course will not have that class appear on their transcript, unless they choose to for credit. In a letter to students on Nov. 30, Rick Danheiser, the faculty chair, said that policy would continue into the spring, and the school might revert to a “pass” system if conditions deteriorate.