PRO: Pass/No Mark is the way to go

Christine Oh, Co Editor-in-Chief

Let’s face it: With this spreading coronavirus pandemic, everything has been uncertain and filled with anxiety and changes. It’s a stressful time, and times like this call for effective changes and communication. 

That’s exactly what the San Ramon Valley Unified School District has done.

For the past few weeks, students have been bombarded with changes all across our education — from transitioning to online platforms, to getting rid of letter grades.

The district announced on April 3 that middle and high school students would be graded on a P/NM (pass/no mark) system for the remainder of the school year. This is the fairest option for all students.

Teaching methods have been changing, so shouldn’t grading methods change as well? We can’t simply change one factor in the equation without thinking of the other.

While this change will affect students in many ways, it’s only one of many changes that we are experiencing during this worldwide pandemic. I, for one, commend the district for implementing this change out of fairness and flexibility.

Whether we like it or not, this change will help alleviate the many stresses that we’re all facing. Some of us may have to look after relatives and siblings. Taking away letter grades will help those students focus on their priorities. 

Even for those without other responsibilities, this system will be less stressful. I often hear my peers complain about a test, a grade, or a zero in their progress reports. Think about it. During these past three weeks, how has your academic stress been? Probably not as strong as when we had traditional school, right?

Teachers have also been adjusting to place more emphasis on participation. This allows them to spend less time on grading and updating School Loop. They are also able to genuinely teach material for the purpose of learning, rather than for students to simply get an A.

This situation also forces students to reevaluate why they are learning. Sure, grades are important. But somehow, in the process of growing up, the actual material we learn in school has become less important than the grade that we earn in class.

Many students have questioned whether this was the best option the district could have gone with. The answer is yes.

While some have proposed that students could have the option of going with P/NM or receiving a letter grade, that system realistically wouldn’t work. Teachers have hundreds of students, and to separate students who would like a letter grade and those who wouldn’t would be an immense workload. It also wouldn’t present the same level of fairness to everyone across the district.

It’s not as if we are at any large disadvantage because of this new system. Yes, your third quarter GPA might have been for nothing, but with districts everywhere implementing a similar system, we are all in the same boat.

In fact, the Palo Alto Unified School District and the Acalanes Union High School District have already switched to these grading systems, which is detailed in The district’s announcement on April 3. It’s not just high schools making these changes. This system originated from colleges and universities, with prestigious institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins all adopting a mandatory pass/fail grading system this semester.

Some people have said that this new system is unfair to the students who worked hard for their 4.0 GPA during the third quarter. I can’t disagree with you there. I poured my heart into my classes, determined for a great second semester of my junior year.

But if we look at this situation from all sides, everything about this entire coronavirus pandemic is unfair, not just the grading system. All student activities have been cancelled, not just on-campus classes. No athletics. No field trips. No dances.

Seniors won’t be able to experience their end-of-year activities. No senior ball. No senior picnic. No graduation ceremonies. No grad night.

Everything is unfair, and we all want things to return to normal. 

The change to the grading system is just one of many that are required. It is a change that we need to accept for what it is right now.