EDITORIAL: Changes to grading system, deadlines beneficial for students

Marquette's Zilber Hall. (Marquette Wire stock photo.)

Marquette's Zilber Hall. (Marquette Wire stock photo.)

With its decision to provide an alternative grading system and extend academic deadlines, Marquette University should be commended for its response to student needs under the unique circumstances the created by COVID-19.

The university announced in a March 27 news release that students will be able to withdraw with a “W” from courses taken during the 2020 spring semester until May 1. The previous withdrawal deadline was April 17.

The news release also said students will have the ability to replace letter grades with pass/fail options on a class-by-class basis. Marquette students can decide if they want pass/fail marks for each individual course until May 26, two weeks after grades are posted May 12.

Other universities have extended academic deadlines, but some are requiring students to make decisions before final grades are posted.

Vanderbilt University, a private university in Nashville, is requiring students to decide if they want to opt into pass/fail by April 10

Duke University, which is transitioning all courses to follow a “satisfactory/unsatisfactory” system, is requiring students to declare if they want to receive a letter grade by April 22.

Students attending University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign must decide if they want to opt into the credit/no credit option by April 30

Students at Marquette can replace letter grades with Pass, Low Pass or Not Pass. A Pass would replace a permanent grade of C or higher in a course, a Low Pass would replace a permanent grade of C-, D+ or D in a course and a Not Pass would replace a permanent grade lower than a D in a course. 

This optional grading system and course withdrawal extension showcases the university’s acknowledgement that students are not receiving their anticipated educational experience, may not have access to adequate learning resources or may be experiencing distractions and stress at home.

The university’s actions reflect that administrators are trying to provide the best possible experience for students under these extenuating circumstances.

With the recent transition to remote classes, students and faculty are still adapting to new modes of learning. Providing an optional pass/fail grading system takes into account that students may be differ in whether they receive more or less coursework online than in the classroom.

Students may not want to replace letter grades with a P, LP or NP if they are concerned about improving their GPAs for graduate program applications, job preparedness or accomplishing personal academic goals.

The university’s decision to make the pass/fail optional takes this into account, allowing students to continue using the default A-F grading system if they wish.  

Marquette’s decision to extend the deadline for students to decide which grading methods they wish to use to after the semester ends gives students the opportunity to choose the best possible option for each of their classes. Rather than having to make premature decisions, students can focus on their coursework without having to dwell on future uncertainties. 

During this rapidly changing time, there is no way for students to know or prepare for future life events. If family members get sick or lose their jobs due to coronavirus-related unemployment, students may not have time to focus on coursework.  

Other colleges and universities should follow Marquette’s lead and consider extending the opt-in pass/fail deadline until after the spring semester ends as the coronavirus continues to impact the day-to-day lives of students.