By Sarah Meklir and Leah Russell

pasted image 0 (1)Photo Credit: Atlantic Journal-Constitution

With the sudden rise of  COVID-19 and the nation’s attempts to minimize its spread, Maryland schools have resorted to online classes. This approach will be maintained until May 15th, when officials will reassess and make a decision regarding the rest of the school year. All of these changes have students scrambling, asking questions like, “what does that mean for fourth quarter grades? Finals? Or even overall grades for the year?” A global pandemic such as this is a new situation to everyone, therefore students, teachers, and administration alike are asking the same questions. More precautions are being taken in Maryland and Howard County as experts learn more about the virus, and the situation is developing on a daily basis. Though there are no answers set in stone at this time, there are many developments and decisions being made to answer questions about online schooling and grading policies.

Many families do not have the technology to adequately learn material and submit assignments for a grade. As a result, it is difficult to establish a sensible grading policy. Even when a student knows the material and completes all of their work, they may be unable to turn it in electronically due to a lack of sufficient technology. Because of this, Howard County has opted to change the grading system for the last quarter of the school year. Rather than the “A, B, C, D, E” grading practices normally utilized by HCPSS, fourth quarter grades will be maintained on a pass/incomplete basis. This means any overall quarter grade over 50% equates to “pass,” which will later be recorded as an “A” on transcripts. The new system has the potential to positively impact many students’ GPAs, while also relieving some pressure during this trying time. 

The pass/fail option allows more leniency in the grading process to combat against the technological troubles that many students are facing. Many students have expressed their relief at the new grading system while others have shared their doubts and concerns with the long term effect of this new system. For example, many seniors have already been accepted into colleges and are not as worried about the potential effect this new grading policy will have on their GPA compared to many underclassmen. Many juniors are wondering how the pass/fail option will look to colleges, as it is the last quarter colleges will be looking at in their applications. 

One Junior, Camryn Johnson, says that even though pass/fail may change her GPA, it has done little to change her work ethic, “I haven’t really been treating this quarter as pass fail and I’m trying to still work like I normally would so I feel prepared for AP tests in two weeks, but it has taken some stress off of my shoulders knowing my final grades are in place, more or less.” Many students are continuing to try their best to still learn during this time in order to do well on tests and gain more knowledge, with the perk of not having to worry about the letter grade they will be getting for this quarter. Sophomore Olivia Vander Putten agrees, “I’m still doing all my work and trying my best, but it definitely lessens the stress since it is easier to get an A this quarter.” A “pass” for this quarter is equal to an “A,” so by doing the work, many students will receive a grade to reflect that, without the extra stress caused by letter grades.

Lauren Johnson, a Freshman this year, explains how the pass/fail option has helped her with online learning, “While Howard County has made online learning pretty easy to figure out and complete, I am a hands on learner which has made online learning more difficult because I am most comfortable in a classroom environment.” Online learning is a big change for everyone to get used to, which is one of the main reasons why Howard County decided to make Quarter 4 pass/fail. About this option, Lauren also says, “I try to do my best always, but I am actually relieved that passing guarantees an A, so my GPA will remain the same.” Many have expressed their relief in the pass/fail option with the continuity of learning being online. The most important part about this option is that it is very helpful for students without proper technology, and a way to make online learning less stressful for students and teachers.