Information about grading for the Spring 2020 semester

Friday, March 27, 2020 - 2:00pm

Dear students, 

We write today in response to several messages sent to us with respect to a petition circulating among college students regarding grading as a result of many campuses transitioning to remote delivery of their curricula. The petition asks us to adopt a “Double-A” grading system to address in which all students receive full credit for all of their courses and a grade of either “A” or “A-” on their transcript as a result of the current disruptions resulting from COVID-19. We appreciate the seriousness with which the local organizers of this petition have approached this important topic and wanted to share the rationale for the grading system that Mount Holyoke has adopted for the Spring 2020 semester.

As shared in previous communications, earlier this month we convened a group led by Dean Amber Douglas and faculty from across the curriculum, as well as several staff members. Their charge was to think through the many academic consequences of the current disruption to our teaching and learning environment, including grading options for this semester. One of the first tasks was to evaluate our regular grading practices and determine if adjustments needed to be made in light of our new circumstance. Grading was also a focus of a discussion at an all-faculty forum on March 12, shortly before break, and issues of equity were acknowledged there. The working group subsequently spent a considerable amount of time carefully deliberating these questions, especially the many issues around equity, access, engagement, and integrity. The group recognizes the widely varying study environments to which students have returned, as well as the extensive work that many of you have accomplished thus far this semester. The group was determined to acknowledge that work, while understanding that the new environment is very different and would require flexibility. The working group made its recommendations to the Dean of Faculty, to the faculty Academic Priorities Committee and to the Faculty Conference Committee for approval. 

Decisions on grading were deliberated carefully and guided by two primary principles:

  • to ensure that students stay engaged in the intellectual discovery at the heart of their courses, while recognizing that there are many different learning environments and creating more flexible opportunities for students to complete their work;
  • to ensure that no student’s GPA is adversely impacted by events of this semester beyond their control.    

To that end, as previously shared with all students, Mount Holyoke’s faculty governance committees endorsed the following decisions to address the current situation:

  1. We will extend the deadline for students to elect to replace their letter grades with a credit/no credit (CR/NC) to June 30, 2020. Unlike the traditional ungraded option, due to exigent circumstances and for this semester only, students will be given the opportunity to elect the ungraded option after they review the letter grades earned in their courses. 
  2. For this semester only, students will be allowed to elect the CR/NC option on one or all of the courses in which they are enrolled. 
  3. The courses taken this semester as CR/NC will not count toward the limit of ungraded courses allowed to count toward the 128 credit requirement.
  4. These courses will count toward major, minor and distribution requirements regardless of whether a student opts to replace the letter grade with a CR/NC or accepts the letter grade earned in the course. 

This approach offers several benefits to our students, and we believe it provides more flexibility than most other models. Another grading model is mandatory pass/fail. The concern with mandatory pass/fail is many students have already demonstrated significant strength in the first eight weeks of the semester, and we want to acknowledge that work. We also want to encourage our students to be engaged in their courses throughout the remainder of the semester. 

Yet, we also understand that students will have very different learning environments across many different time zones, and with variable access to technologies. We have asked our faculty to deliver their curriculum asynchronously, whenever possible. This means that you are able to access the course materials at times that are convenient and propitious for your learning and individual situation. We also sent out a survey to all students, encouraging you to provide us with information about your technology and connectivity needs. Our staff in LITS have been reaching out to individuals who have raised concerns and, wherever needed, they have provided technology support including distribution of equipment and support for obtaining reliable internet access.

Finally, the “Double-A” proposal would preclude work completed this semester from being included in a student’s aggregate GPA calculation. The grades would not necessarily reflect the knowledge and skills acquired that form the basis of a recorded, accredited grade and therefore would have to be separated from the cumulative GPA.

While much has changed abruptly in the past several weeks, we can assure you that some things have not. Our faculty are here to support you and your work. They have spent the past two weeks working tirelessly to adjust their courses and course materials and are excited to resume classes on March 30. They are focused on supporting you and ensuring flexibility and maintaining engagement with students. And, while we may not be present in class together in the same way, we will continue to be engaged in rich, intellectual inquiry and discovery, and in strong and powerful ways — our faculty will demand no less of themselves in this moment. Your education is paramount to who we are and to our engagement in this collective enterprise. 

As always, we encourage you to be in communication with your faculty, your advisors and the class deans if you have concerns about your specific circumstances. We also encourage you to have conversations with your advisors about how to best approach the grading options for this semester. We are here to support you and want you to be academically successful. We encourage you to be in communication with your faculty, your academic advisors, and your academic dean for support.

Best wishes to you and those close to you,

Jon Western
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty
Carol Hoffmann Collins '63 Professor of International Relations

Amber Douglas
Dean of Studies, Director of Student Success and Advising
Associate Professor of Psychology and Education