Melvin and Elon: Saga of a portrait

The historical marker sign for the Greensboro Massacre

The historical marker sign for the Greensboro Massacre

Every family in America has been affected by COVID-19, some from loss of life, and others from loss of employment. But another casualty of the pandemic has been education. To put things in perspective, there are approximately 74 million children under age 18 living at home, and another 20 million enrolled in college. That means over the past year, about 90 million young people and their parents had to deal with stay-at-home-ordered distance learning. Many parents who were lucky enough to still have a job, had to either resign or take extended leave in order to stay home and supervise their offspring. Meanwhile, not every child could even receive online instruction. In Guilford County alone, it is estimated that, in 2020, over 2,000 children had no access to high speed internet service. Now, thanks to an increase in numbers of people having been vaccinated, local schools and colleges are starting to resume classroom instruction, but not without having already made some concessions to the pandemic, including lowering or removing GPA requirements, and instituting or extending the “Pass/Fail” grading system.

“Pass/Fail” is nothing new. Yale, for example, was using the system as far back as the early 1960’s. But last April, Yale became the fourth Ivy League school to adopt a mandatory “Pass/Fail” grading system, following the likes of Harvard, Columbia, and Dartmouth, and all because of the pandemic. College students across the country complained that distance learning hurt their grade point average, including kids at Penn, who told InsideHigherEd.com that “many of their classes do not properly translate to an online environment.”

Naturally “Pass/Fail” is more popular with kids than is a quantifiable grade, and why not? As TFDSupplies.com reports, students are under less stress with “Pass/Fail”. However, “Pass/Fail” also has its drawbacks. According to a study by Connect US, “Pass/Fail” promotes unhealthy learning habits. TFD adds that students are less competitive under “Pass/Fail”, and that the system offers no incentives for doing better. Perhaps none of this should matter to most of us who could care less if Johnny simply passes English, instead of getting an “A”. But what if Johnny held your life in his hands? Well hold onto your internal organs, because last month, the United States Medical Licensing Exam announced that their traditional method of grading was changing to “Pass/Fail”. Yikes!

Thanks to COVID, an increasing number of high schools have also adopted a “Pass/Fail” system. Last year when Governor Cooper closed public schools, the State Board of Education authorized a “Pass/Fail” grading system for approximately 100,000 high school seniors. It seemed like the only fair thing to do. But was it in the best interest of the students? Earlier this year, the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools also floated the idea of lowering the GPA requirement for student athletes, so that those who didn’t do well with online learning, could still participate in sports.

On a recent episode of my Triad Today television program, I asked the Roundtable panelists if making such concessions like “Pass/Fail”, and lowering GPA requirements, would help or hurt students in the long run. Taylore Woods, CEO of Ashtae Products, said that it would not only hurt the students, but the community as well. And Keith Grandberry, former CEO of the Urban League, and now founder of Helping Hands Consultants, said he was against lowering GPA requirements. They were not alone in their criticisms of pandemic-era grading.

Mark Lee, director of the MBA programs at Trinity Western University told Study International that making such concessions as “Pass/Fail” is like “…handing out a participation ribbon at a sports tournament, where there are no winners or losers. You end up with a bunch of students with a ‘good enough’ mentality, rather than striving towards excellence. Business doesn’t work that way.”

Neither should public schools and colleges, which are supposed to prepare students to think for themselves. We’ve seen what a lack of education and critical thinking has produced among violent right-wing conspiracy groups, and we certainly don’t need to add to their numbers by watering down the learning process for tomorrow’s adults.

The pandemic has presented our young people with unprecedented challenges, including everything from limited access to the internet, to fighting off depression and suicidal thoughts due to isolation. But those disparities aside, there’s no excuse for most students not to apply themselves to the best of their ability, even if politicians and educators continue to lower the grading bar around them. “Pass/Fail” was never meant to be a mandatory grading system across the board, and I hope that once we get back to “normal”, it will be stored away with face masks, hand sanitizers, and other reminders of COVID-19.
 
 

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