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C'est la Z

Future consequences of today's grading policies

How are we going to deal with grades?

This has garnered a lot of attention since COVID-19 struck. Over on the AP side people wonder if colleges will give credit? Do the tests mean anything? What about the material they won't be testing? We also have had standardized tests canceled and a variety of grading policies.

I'm going to stay away from AP this time around - you all know my feelings about the college board. I will leave you with a couple of good posts though that share many of my views (AP Courses don't deserve college credit, Retiring Advanced Placement).

The bottom line is that student and teachers lives have been severely disrupted since early March. In NYC public schools that means three to four months which is a considerable chunk of the semester. In college the percent is slightly less but it's still a good chunk.

Some students have done fine but many have had difficulty and I'd venture a guess to say most won't end the semester in the same place they would have under normal circumstances.

I've been thinking about this as a result of Hunter's policy and I don't really have a good answer.

Hunter decided that instructors would award grades as they normally would. Each instructor would follow their own counsel on how to grade. Should they be super lenient due to circumstances? Extra hard because of perceived cheating (don't get me started on this), same old same old or some other method. Once grades were awarded, students have the ability to change any or all classes to pass/fail. Normally if a student takes a class pass/fail it can't be used as a prerequisite or to fill a major requirement but for this past semester, it can.

Overall I like this policy - it gives the students most of the control and they don't have to decide on anything until after the fact. The bad part comes in though with the any passed class counting as a prerequisite of for the major.

Let's say I have a student in CS1 who was doing well but really struggled at the end after we went remote. Maybe that student was doing A or B work up to the switch but basically got nothing out of the rest of the semester. I wouldn't want to fail the student. Under normal circumstances, we make the false assumption that the grade is entirely the result of the student and factors surrounding the student's environment. Even if that assumption were 100% true the Covid Curve Ball was not the students fault and the negative impact to their studies could not only be due to their circumstances but also due to actions of the college or the way the instructor reacted to the circumstances.

With Hunter's policy, I could award any passing grade - even a D and the student could convert it to a Pass and move on to CS2.

The danger here is that the student might not be prepared for CS2. We cover memory pointers, memory management, and classes at the end of CS1. So much of CS2 is built on pointer based programs that a student who missed out on that in CS1 is going to struggle mightily.

You might say that the kid could have retaken CS1 but there's a wrench in the works. If the kid failed CS1 they could retake it. With a Pass they can't.

A student could, with the permission of some instructor audit the missed parts of CS1 or self study but we know that won't always happen.

The alternative is to award a failing grade to the student which would then hurt their GPA and force them to retake the entire course.

You might say that the school could just adjust the curricula for next year but it's not that simple. In high school most students progress in lockstep. In college there's more variation. Next semester's CS2 will have students who completed CS1 this past semester under the cloud of COVID-19, students who completed it on the Fall, some from summer and some from other places. This is where curricular consistency is somewhat more important.

I do like Hunter's policy and I do think it's on the side of the student but I'm not happy about this loophole.

This probably won't affect a huge number of students but some will fall through the cracks. As I said, I don't have a good answer but it is something I'm really concerned about.

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