An Okanagan College student started a petition to encourage administration to implement a pass/fail grading system in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Okanagan College Facebook)

COVID-19: Okanagan College student pens petition for pass/fail grades

Optional pass/fail program would reduce stress, recognize students’ challenges faced in pandemic

An Okanagan College student has started a petition encouraging administration to implement a temporary pass/fail system in response to COVID-19.

Jordyn Ross, a first year science student at the Vernon campus, said a pass/fail system would allow Okanagan students to “shield a low final grade from their GPA (grade point average) by opting to receive a pass or fail instead of a number or letter grade.”

“The implementation of an optional pass/fail system for this semester would recognize the challenges students have had to overcome with the transition to online classes due to COVID-19 by taking any additional pressure off those whose grades have suffered during this time,” Ross said.

Okanagan College’s website said it is still currently working on the issue of grading.

It noted some institutions, notably universities, have moved to the pass/fail system, but OC recognizes the importance of grades-based outcomes, especially for students seeking transfers or program entries.

“We are continuing to examine the best options for our students to ensure you can meet your educational goals,” the college’s website reads. “Watch for more news about this in the coming days.”

Ross said she’s well aware of the school’s concerns, but there are more factors to consider.

“My response to that is let the students decide for themselves whether or not this system will benefit them,” she said. “It is designed to be optional for each individual student. Those who require letter grades would choose to finish the semester with the grades they have.”

So far, Ross said, the school has only extended the withdrawal date deadline for courses, allowing students to pull out without compromising their GPA. But withdrawing, she said, comes with its own price.

“Withdrawing from a course you have received a low grade in to protect your GPA does not benefit anyone who has met the requirements of the course (50 per cent or higher),” Ross said.

Withdrawing would cost students the credits and many students, she said, would have to retake the course the following year and take on those additional time and financial costs.

“For a lot of students, we can’t afford to lose out on any credits obtained during the semester,” Ross said, noting credit loss at this time could affect the length of time it takes students to graduate.

Students, like all Canadians, are already dealing with several external factors brought on by the novel coronavirus, such as access to food, unstable home environments, mental health concerns, financial issues and family health pressures, Ross said, so a pass/fail system could help alleviate some pressures while increasing the likelihood of successful grant and scholarship applications.

“This system is beneficial because it can boost students’ GPAs, which are often required for scholarship applications, student loans, and other government programs,” Ross said. “It also takes the stress off students who beat themselves up over a poor grade.”

Ross said creating a pass/fail system but limiting it to only two courses or six credits would be a good compromise.

“It’s more than generous and would benefit many students without ramifications,” she said.

Ross’ petition is online at change.org and has already garnered more than 260 signatures.

“The college has been accommodating during this time and I believe implementing this system is the final step in settling the unavoidable chaos of this semester,” Ross said, offering praise to how “professionally and gracefully” professors and staff have handled the situation.

READ MORE: First Nations, remote communities need special attention in pandemic, Freeland says

READ MORE: Gleaners give surplus produce, Vernon gratefully fed


@caitleerach
Caitlin.clow@vernonmorningstar.com

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