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COVID-19: Pass/Fail Policy for Spring 2020

 

The e-petition: Pass/Fail Option For Covenant College Undergrads Spring 2020 has been referred to Covenant for consideration by Erik Peeples, the Student Body President. This petition requested every class be taken on a pass fail basis. Given the public nature of the petition, I felt a response should be sent to all students and faculty.

 

As the Dean of Records, I have been studying (just like our students) ongoing discussions with my colleagues from other colleges, guidance from my registrar professional associations, and suggestions and directives from our accreditation agency and the US Department of Education regarding appropriate ways to address these issues. While short-term solutions may be permissible, it is prudent also to consider long-term implications of any changes to current grading and transcript practices. What may help students and professors today may complicate situations in the future. Please bear in mind that the COVID-19 changes have come about rather abruptly, without significant time to assess the long-term consequences, and there is no unity among colleges on appropriate grading standards to employ.

 

After consulting with colleagues and members of the academic administration, I wanted to affirm that there will be no changes to our current grading system for the 2020 spring semester. The Pass/Fail Grade Option is still available to students who qualify as noted below. We understand that switching to an online delivery system half way through the term is an adjustment for everyone. However we do not believe this change in instruction mode requires a change in grading system. Changing the grading system cannot create parity, regardless of the options being considered by other institutions, so let me share some of the major points supporting this decision.

 

Online instruction has been in place in higher education for years, and most online classes still issue a letter grade. While this may be a student’s first online class, and it may also be the professor’s first attempt at online instruction. Covenant’s accrediting agency requires we maintain the integrity of educational courses with their stated learning outcomes regardless of the delivery mode, and according to our institutional policies.

 

Most professors already have assessments from the first half of the semester. Nonetheless, professors are entitled to change their methods of assessing learning outcomes regardless of the mode of delivery. Please know that professors have been working during the student’s extended spring break to adapt their syllabi and to adjust their assessment methods, all the while maintaining academic integrity with their learning outcomes. Professors are mindful of the need for grace and they are eager to help students to relieve stress while still expecting appropriate academic accountability. Professors have the flexibility to assign an Incomplete if a student’s situation warrants additional time, just as with a face-to-face class. I would also encourage students to give your professors some grace as well.

 

Tutoring is available with the Writing Center and Mathematics Center and departments are still using tutors electronically. If a student is struggling, they must accept the responsibility of communicating with the professor.

 

Pass/fail format would not be in all students’ best interest. The actual grade earned is important for many students for a number of potential reasons:

 

·         Admission for graduate or professional programs

·         Prerequisite fulfillment

·         Ability to transfer credits to another institution

·         State and institutional scholarship eligibility

·         Removal from Academic Probation

·         Academic honors

 

The unintended consequences may not be known this semester or this year. It is because we cannot predict what other institutions or state scholarship organizations or graduate programs will do, that we believe it is in the best interest of our students to complete the latter half of the term online with the same grading integrity as they completed the first half. Having just completed a webinar on evolving COVID practices, Covenant is not alone staying with our existing grading system, and both graduate and professional programs still prefer the letter grades. Please communicate with your professor if you are encountering problems with a class.

 

Pass/Fail option is still available with existing criteria. To provide an opportunity for students and instructors to have more experience with the online delivery mode, we are going to extend the deadline so eligible students who meet the existing criteria below may still change a course to or from pass/fail through Monday, April 13.

 

Pass/Fail Grade Option (2019-2020 Undergraduate Catalog, pg. 27) Students with junior or senior standing and an institutional grade point average of 2.70 or higher may take a maximum of 12 hours toward graduation on a pass/fail basis in non-core courses and courses not required in the student's major or minor. Students must earn a "C-" or better letter grade to qualify for a "Pass." A "Pass" is assigned a grade of "P" that applies as earned hours toward graduation but is not included in computing the student's institutional grade point average. A "Fail" is assigned a grade of "F" that carries no earned hours or grade points and is included in computing the institutional grade point average. The objective of the pass/fail option is to encourage students to take some courses they might not otherwise take.

 

I trust that you will recognize that we take these decisions seriously, considering all of the issues while only mentioning a few notes above, and asking our Lord to give us guidance on how to respond to COVID-19 and every other challenge. We will not pretend to know everything about this constantly changing scenario but we have faith in our Lord to direct us through the storm. I welcome any questions.

 

Respectfully,

Rodney Miller