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  • Writer's pictureSatish Kamat

Why Schools Must Normalize Their Grade Boundaries for The Pandemic Stress Semester!

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

As a father of two fresh(wo)men in US undergrad programs, I am starting to look back on a month gone by since Covid-19 pandemic started in mid-March.

First of all, my sincere thanks to Universities for their swift response to Covid-19 situation. It is clear that University leaderships put the health and well being of students at the top while ensuring maximum learning environment. This must have come at lot of financial cost to them.

Both of my daughters chose to stay back in US, instead of coming back to India, mostly because they wanted to participate in live, online courses, something challenging to do from India. So for a freshman that considers University campus her second home, the changes turnout to be drastic and almost unimaginable stress. We changed our twice a week conversations to twice a day (texting not included).

And she is not alone. Almost everyone is affected in their own way:

  • Most international students in Residence Halls are living under very high level of stress, way from their families, hearing about new cases on campus, while almost quarantined.

  • Some of the domestic students found themselves helping their parents in cooking or home chores and looking after sibling(s), addition to study.

  • A few International students who went back, had to stay in quarantine facilities for ~2 weeks and were to give exams from it.

  • Some of the students may be having a normal life compared to others.

And the list can go on. But one thing is clear, none are having a normal life.

I am impressed to see how hard the University teams have worked to move to this new setup. Kudos for the efforts of everyone from University Leadership to IT to Residential Services to Faculty. Many professors have lighten up their classes to remove the elephant from the virtual class rooms. They are also trying to overcome a lost week of teaching, on-line teaching, on-line office hours, on-line exams and their own stress from stay-at-home orders and family news on disease front. As can be expected, they struggled for a week now and then, but overall clearly made the best of situation.

I understand that no school of caliber, will like to reduce its standards by changing the grade boundaries in ordinary times. The current situation is not any where close to average spring semester on American University campuses. In later, students are able to study on campus with strong interaction with professors, TAs, and other students, without the stress of Covid news bombardment. This extraordinary stress, makes the current semester’s grade boundaries rather much higher to achieve, thereby almost asking students to perform to much higher standards, than any batch before. Hence the grading boundaries needs to be normalised to bring it to normal University spring semester.

My suggestion, therefore, to University Deans and their team is to provide A WIN to these students through a bit grade scale changes to compensate for the stress. Let them see that their University appreciates the pandemic stress students are living through and will not allow students to loose their grades to CoVid-19. This could work as follow:

A: 100-90, instead of 100-93. Expanded by 3 point.

A-: 89-87, instead of 92-90. No expanded.

B+: 83-86. instead of 89-87. And so. You may have better ideas here.

Deans of various colleges will be the first ones to appreciate that such a WIN can motivate the students for upcoming fall semester, particularly if second wave has to come. So LEAD with this decision, don't wait other schools to do it. Deans should also allow kids to choose their grades or Pass/Fail a week after the final exams. You will be surprised how many kids will choose letter grades over the Pass/Fail.

Many schools are doing various variations of some of these options. Can Universities, just like in March, do standard response to grading? Like either P/F or Letter Grade Option after exam, option available per course. Also grade boundaries changed across by 3 marks or so. I think Univsersities have shown this leadsership, and now that we have experienced what we have, how can we not normalize the grading.

If this situation has taught us anything, it’s that campus education has no parallel for now unless virtual reality leapfrog soon! But doesn’t that makes the strongest case for such normalization of pandemic stress and online teaching to a normal quarter?

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