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Faculty Senate to consider satisfactory/no-credit grading for spring courses

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The Faculty Senate will consider a proposal to mandate Satisfactory/No Credit (S/NC) grading for almost all spring quarter courses at its Thursday meeting in light of concerns about coronavirus’ impact on equity and education, according to an Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) executive update emailed to students Wednesday evening. The proposal would exempt courses in the Graduate School of Business, School of Law and School of Medicine M.D. program unless these schools opt in.

If the University adopts the measure, Stanford would join institutions like Columbia and Dartmouth in moving all classes to a pass/fail grading system without the option to opt out. UC Berkeley has shifted the default grading option for classes to pass/fail but will allow students to change their grading option back to a letter grade.  

In addition to the first proposal, the Senate will discuss a proposal allowing students to take any class for Credit/No Credit (C/NC) or for a letter grade. Under C/NC grading, students must earn a D or above in a class in order to pass, whereas under S/NC grading, students must earn a C- in order to pass, instead of a D, in order to pass. 

The ASSU plans to propose a third option, a “Universal A/NC” system, that would give students A letter grades recorded on their transcripts for each passed course — and receive the corresponding GPA boost, according to the executive update.

The Undergraduate Senate voted Thursday morning to endorse a modified version of the Universal A/NC proposal where students who achieve between a C- and an A would still be granted an A, and students who achieve an A+ would receive that grade on their transcript.

Regardless of the grading policy chosen, the University will “include explanatory language on all students’ transcripts explaining the different academic rules in place” for spring quarter. Departments would be also urged to count impacted courses toward undergraduate major and WAYS/THINK/PWR requirements while not counting toward the 36-unit C/NC limit for undergraduates, according to the executive update.

It is unclear how a change in grading policy would affect the bestowment of different University and departmental honors traditionally based on GPA.

Proposals weigh equity, future prospects, course quality

The executive update email outlined arguments for and against each of the proposed changes, pointing to educational equity as a key consideration in the decision.

“Online learning exacerbates the inequities that students experience away from campus, and those who are most affected by the COVID-19 crisis may face serious barriers to academic success during spring quarter,” the email reads. “Many students lack a quiet place to work in their place of residence, do not have adequate internet access, are experiencing homelessness, don’t feel safe in their current situation, serve as caretakers for family members, and/or live in time zones that make it difficult to call into synchronous lectures or discussions.”

The email also stated that — unlike the Universal S/NC and Universal A/NC proposals — the Optional C/NC proposal could exacerbate inequities by allowing students less affected by coronavirus to have the chance to improve their GPA, while students more affected would “disproportionately apply” to take courses C/NC.

The Optional C/NC proposal could also give students’ “agency” in picking their classes and remove the higher bar for passing a course introduced by the S/NC and Universal A/NC proposal.

On the other hand, the S/NC and A/NC proposals could provide a buffer against future coronavirus-related disruptions and would “nearly [guarantee]” that departments would accept such courses for major/minor requirements, the email reads. The C/NC proposal could dissuade departments from accepting C/NC courses for major/minor requirements. 

Additionally, the A/NC proposal would give students a letter grade on their transcripts and a GPA boost, potentially ameliorating concerns that the S/NC proposal would negatively affect students applying for jobs or graduate programs. 

The S/NC and Universal A/NC proposal are not without potential drawbacks, according to the email. It notes that the two proposals could reduce how seriously students take classes, especially those “classes that rely on group projects or partner-based assignments.”

The executive update follows an ASSU petition circulated Tuesday to shift all spring quarter courses to credit/no credit (C/NC) and have such courses count toward WAYS and major requirements. The petition was accompanied by a Google Form requesting student feedback on the potential change to “be shown to people” in the Faculty Senate.

The ASSU is now soliciting student feedback through a new Google Form until 9 a.m. PT on Thursday. In addition to asking that students identify the proposal they most prefer, the form includes optional questions asking students about the presence of COVID-19 in their area, academic barriers and future plans, personal testimonials or to their academic performance in spring quarter. The Faculty Senate meeting will take place on Thursday at 2 p.m. PT over Zoom. To request access to the meeting, members of the community can email Adrienne Emory ([email protected]).

This article has been updated to reflect the Undergraduate Senate’s Thursday morning endorsement of a mandatory “A+/A/NC” grading scale for spring quarter.

Contact Kate Selig at kselig ‘at’ stanford.edu.