Simpson passes on pass-fail grading


by Liv Allen, Staff reporter

Many colleges and universities have altered their grading system to a form of pass-fail with the recent transition to online learning. 

Simpson College is not among that group. 

The President’s Office sent an email to the Simpson College community on March 30 detailing how they would pursue grading procedures in light of the online transition. 

“Simpson College will not be moving to a pass/fail grading system for spring 2020,” the email disclosed. “While we are changing modalities of instruction from face-to-face to the online delivery of courses, it is the intent that the same learning outcomes will be achieved, thus not requiring a different approach to grading.” 

Bigger institutions like the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa have all given students the option to continue with letter grading or switch to the pass-fail system. 

For students who choose the pass-fail system at the University of Iowa, a grade of C- or greater will translate to a ‘P’ (passing) grade, and any grade lower than a C- will translate to an ‘N’, and no credit will be awarded. Neither the P nor the N will affect a student’s GPA. 

Chloe Bormann, a second-year student at Iowa State University, says that the option was given to students due to online remote delivery lowering the quality of instruction. 

“I’ve had an easy A in my educational psychology class all semester, but remote delivery completely changed my assignments and workload and now I have a B,” Bormann said. “That’s kind of unfair, so luckily I can switch to pass-fail.” 

The University of Northern Iowa gives students the option to receive credit-no credit for all classes and towards any program. Choosing this system will not affect a student’s GPA, and a grade of C- is required to receive credit. 

Simpson’s Interim Academic Dean Dr. Cheryl Jacobsen considered several factors when collaborating with faculty on this decision. 

“Grades are important to students who may be applying for graduate or professional schools,” Jacobsen said. “They are also needed for students who need to improve their academic standing—for athletic eligibility or to make academic progress and not be on probation or face dismissal.”

Moving to a pass-fail system would also affect honors, such as Dean’s or President’s Lists, or even graduation honors. 

“We are reluctant to change a permanent transcript for a temporary situation,” Jacobsen said. “All of us at Simpson are very aware that this semester has a context that is different from previous semesters. Faculty will not overlook that context or unique student considerations when planning course activities or evaluating them.”

Matthew Marquez, a second-year student now taking online courses in his hometown of West Covina, California, has no problem with the decision to stick with the current grading system. 

“I use our current system as motivation, seeing the letter grade reminds me which classes I should put more effort into,” Marquez says. “If the college incorporated a pass-fail system I think a lot of students would have problems with effort in their academics.” 

Students with concerns about extenuating circumstances that may complicate course work are encouraged to talk to their professors directly or schedule a meeting with their academic advisors.