Students petition UMD to return to pass/fail grading for hybrid semester

The administration building. (Joe Ryan/The Diamondback)

By Jessica Umbro
For The Diamondback

Though life may not be back to normal during the fall semester at the University of Maryland, the university’s grading system is.

In the spring, as classes were forced online and many students fled campus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the university implemented a pass/fail grading system, where students had until after finals to choose if they wanted to receive a letter grade.

But now, with this semester’s hybrid format, the university has reverted to its standard grading policy, according to an emailed statement provided by university spokesperson Hafsa Siddiqi.

According to the registrar’s office, the current system allows a student with 30 or more credit hours to take one elective class pass/fail each semester.

University President Darryll Pines said the administration thinks transitioning back to the standard grading policy is “appropriate” for this semester. It’s important to acknowledge the efforts made to improve the university’s online courses, he said.

“In the spring semester, I felt that the classes and the conversion wasn’t perfect,” Pines said. “That isn’t the case for this fall. The quality of instruction is high. We hear very few complaints from our students about that.”

Pines said he has been speaking with students to get a feel of how the semester is going, popping into classes and dorms.

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Pines said he recently spoke with about 20 students at the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center, and the majority of them said things were “going fine.”

“My anecdotal talking to students gives me the confidence that … it’s the right thing to do right now,” Pines said.

But some students disagree that grading should go back to normal.

Jenna Reitenbach, a sophomore elementary education major, recently started a petition calling on the university to reinstate the pass/fail system implemented in the spring. The petition has garnered more than 3,650 signatures so far.

“The university believes that we’ve adjusted to [online classes], and that things have gotten better when that’s really not the case,” Reitenbach said. “Many students are really struggling right now. Financially, academically and in their home lives.”

Though Pines said the university has been “listening to the community carefully,” Reitenbach said she believes the administration has not heard students’ true opinions.

“I would imagine that he wouldn’t hear many complaints, because it’s circulating on the student level,” she said.

But Ellie Dura, a senior community health major, said she agrees with the university’s decision to return to normal grading.

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“I think we’ve had some time to adjust,” Dura said. “I personally think online classes are easier.”

Although Dura thinks last semester’s pass/fail grading helped people who struggled with the transition to online learning, she didn’t use it herself.

She worried having a pass/fail grade on her transcript would make graduate programs question if she did well in her classes, she said.

Winston Broadbell, a sophomore international business major, did use the pass/fail grading system last spring — and his grade point average benefited from it.

Broadbell thinks the spring’s policy should have carried over into the fall, as the spring and fall semesters are not that different. With the exception of the few students who have in-person classes, “everything is online,” Broadbell said.

“If we were truly hybrid in every sense of the word, then there would be more in-person classes,” Broadbell said. “Hybrid makes it sound like 50/50 when in reality it’s more like [most] people have all online classes.”

Becca Carin, a junior Jewish studies major, said she believes the university needs to be more flexible, especially because there are more pressing matters to prioritize at the moment, she said, such as the upcoming elections, racial injustice and the pandemic.

“It’s hard to prioritize schoolwork,” Carin said. “There’s so much more at stake, and that takes much more precedent than my ‘A’ or ‘B’ or ‘C’ in a class.”

Moving forward, Pines said, the university is planning to send out a set of surveys, similar to ones the university sent out in the spring, which attempted to gauge students’ opinions on their academic experiences amid the pandemic.

And Reitenbach’s petition could have an impact, Pines said.

“I would encourage students to continue to use that as one mode of communication,” Pines said. “Every form of, I call it a grievance, or a recommendation, plays a role.”

Staff writer Eric Neugeboren contributed to this report.

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