Professors Propose Amendment Allowing Letter Grades

After the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) announced yesterday that Pomona College’s faculty will be debating and voting on a faculty motion to switch this semester’s grading process amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, professors have been proposing an amendment to the motion after student concerns. The original motion only allowed students to be graded on a Pass (P), No Record Pandemic (NRP), or Incomplete (I) basis, without the possibility of letter grades. The proposed amendment would allow for students to convert Passes to letter grades.

According to an email obtained by the Independent, Fred Krinsky Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Religious Studies Oona Eisenstadt is proposing an amendment that will allow students to convert Passes to a letter grade by June 15 (amendments in bold): 

  1. Faculty will exercise the highest degree of flexibility and compassion as we continue to foster student learning and set new expectations.

  2. When curricular pathways are vertically-designed, departments will devise fair and equitable ways to ensure students are prepared for their future studies.

  3. For the spring 2020 semester, Pomona College students will be graded on a Pass (P), No Record Pandemic (NRP), or Incomplete (I) basis.  The assignment of P will count for all major and minor requirements, including senior exercise. The assignment of NRP will strike the class from the student’s academic transcript and no credit will be assigned for the class.  Students wishing to convert a Pass (P) to a letter grade may do so at any time until the end of the second week of the fall 2020 semester; for spring semester graduating seniors, conversion of a Pass (P) to a letter grade must be requested by June 15th 2020.

  4. Pomona College transcripts for spring 2020 semester shall bear the notation “COVID-19: Enrollment & grades reflect disruption of Spring 2020.”

The rationale for the amendment states that “[s]ince the policy under consideration was announced, many students have written or zoomed [using the Zoom video platform] us, asking for a letter grade option. These students come from a variety of circumstances;  some are among our most precarious. They tell us that they do not want to lose the hard work they have put into the semester. They understand that graduate and professional schools will accept their P grades, but they also know that these schools will remain competitive, and that if they can display their diligence on their transcripts they will have a better chance of acceptance.”

“They tell us they have been studying their whole lives toward their goals, goals that the new policy might stop them from reaching.  They are terrified, and some of them are angry. Some have noticed that their Zoom classes are less well attended than they were at first. They think that under the new policy, a few students will stop working all together, and many will phone it in. They believe that their class sessions will suffer as a result, and that this too will hinder their education,” the rationale adds. 

The rationale also refutes ASPC’s conclusion:

“The long, detailed report from the ASPC states in its conclusion: ‘Our data show that the policies that receive strongest support from students are those that preserve the ability to opt-in to grades compared with those that require universal outcomes. Indeed, the most supported policies are not variants of pass-fail policies, but rather, grade inflation and grade floor policies.’ Most students do not support uniform P/NC. They want letter grades.”

James Psomas, a fourth-year student at Pomona, told the Independent that “the amended motion both addresses the gravity of COVID-19 while allowing students to still reach their unique academic goals for the semester, which only has three weeks remaining.”

The amendment effectively keeps Pomona’s current grading policy, albeit that letter grades have to be converted from Passes. 

Three of the other Claremont Colleges that have announced their grading policies aside from Pomona—Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges—all allow their students the option for a letter grade.

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