Carina Cole ’22 Features Editor
In response to the new coronavirus pandemic, all courses for the rest of the academic year will be taught remotely. The next step in adapting to online classes may be switching to a pass/fail system, meaning that grades would no longer be given as a number but rather as simply a “pass” or “fail” for the course. Many schools, colleges, and universities have already switched to this system due to the challenges of online classes and the circumstances many students are facing. Students often find it more difficult to focus from home and have difficulty understanding the material without meeting face-to-face with teachers. Not all students have the same kind of access to reliable WiFi, and students across the world may have to adapt to classes that are scheduled in the middle of the night. Thus, a pass/fail option may be more appropriate under the current situation. Opponents of this approach believe that now more than ever the community should remain consistent and continue with numeric grades to replicate the experience of classes at school as closely as possible.
Mike Conklin, the director of college counseling at Mercersburg, agrees that grades provide clarity and continuity for students. Conklin acknowledges that the pass/fail option may reduce stress. Additionally, he adds that colleges understand the effect of the virus on school life and grades. “Colleges will act in the best interest of their applicants when interpreting grades earned in the current term,” says Conklin. If there is a need to transition to a pass/fail system, Conklin adds, it will be for students’ social, emotional, and academic benefit.
Josh Terris ‘22 believes that switching to pass/fail won’t alter the course work drastically; however, “[i]t’s hard for students to be out of a learning environment that they’re so used to. For me, who views home as a place to relax, it’s sometimes hard to get my work done here.” Many students feel it is difficult to produce quality work at home, so switching to pass/fail classes might ease the pressure on students. They would no longer have to struggle as much to understand directions, deal with the time difference between their homes and Mercersburg, and remain focused in the home environment.
Jennifer Smith ’97, dean of academics, reports that if the school does decide to switch to a pass/fail system before the end of the school year, the day-to-day expectations of classes would not change; only the way in which grades are reported would change. If a change were made, it would be to reduce stress and anxiety for students. Smith notes that the change could “potentially put less pressure on students, but it could also encourage students to disengage from their work and their classes.”