COVID-19 and Grading in the American Education System

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of millions of high school students across the United States. Almost every public and private high school in the nation has either shut down for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year or has suspended face-to-face instruction until sometime in April or May. Regardless of whether they are closed temporarily or indefinitely, many high schools have transitioned to operating entirely online, with teachers educating their students through video conferencing, email, and a host of other applications.

This mass virtualization of teaching extends far beyond the high school level, with thousands of middle schools, as well as colleges and universities, switching to virtual schooling in lieu of face-to-face instruction. For as dramatically as COVID-19 has impacted the American education system, it has impacted the people under that system, students and teachers, even more severely. The virus has made life exponentially more difficult for high school students that have jobs and dependent family members. That is why both educators and students have been petitioning to change the way that their schools are grading during this COVID-19 pandemic. Many students want their states or school boards, to switch from the traditional A-F letter grading system to a pass/fail grading system. Students argue that by going pass/fail, school would be less of a burden on students with other, more pressing responsibilities.

Across the United States, the response to these cries for change have been varied. In North Carolina, the state’s Board of Education has changed the grading procedure for all of its now virtual public schools. The state has switched from using a traditional letter grading system to a pass/fail grading system, but only for the class of 2020. Grades 9 through 11 will continue to receive letter grades but on an abbreviated scale of 70-100.

We felt like the plan we adopted would support our students while being true to the academic mission of our school.”

In Florida, the state board of education has maintained the use of a traditional letter grading system at the public high school level. Independent high schools, however, may change grading systems at their discretion. Currently, Bolles is continuing to use a traditional letter grading system, as is Bishop Kenny. However, Bolles has decided to take students 4th quarter grades and roll them in with their 3rd quarter grades to create one cumulative 2nd semester grade.

When questioned as to the extent that Bolles’ administration considered adopting a pass/fail grading system Mr. Drew, associate head of school, stated, “While I can’t quantify the seriousness of our pass/fail discussion, I can say that we seriously considered many options during our extensive discussions. While no solution is perfect, we felt like the plan we adopted would support our students while being true to the academic mission of our school.” In an email interview, Bishop Kenny’s Academic Dean, Michael Broach, stated, “all fourth quarter grades will count as part of the overall course grade recorded at the end of the year.  We use year-end grading; therefore, 70% of our course grades were already calculated (3 quarters and one midterm exam) when we were forced to close campus.”

The virus has made life exponentially more difficult for high school students that have jobs and dependent family members. ”

Interestingly, pass/fail grading appears to be more popular in higher education than it does at the high school or middle school level. Many Florida universities such as the University of South Florida, Florida State University, and the University of Central Florida have given the option of adopting pass/fail grading to students that apply for it. According to a Tampa Bay Times article, student petitions requesting the adoption of a pass/fail grading system drew over 7,000 signatures at USF and FSU, and over 15,000 signatures at UCF.


Megan Reeves Tampa Bay Times Article: shorturl.at/dqsLY