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OSU students call for change to grading system

Like spring term, many want the choice to opt for a pass/no pass grading system for any class. Students started a petition that has received over 1,500 signatures.

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Students at Oregon State University say they're frustrated with the grading policy this fall term, and they want it to change.

They said instead of getting a typical letter grade, they want the choice to easily opt for a pass/no pass grading system for any of their classes.

Right now, students can opt for a pass/no pass grade for general education course work but not for courses specific to their major, that is unless they get an exception from a faculty member or advisor. Students said they don't feel they should need to get that exception.

Metzin Rodriguez is the student body vice president for Oregon State University. She and her fellow student leaders at OSU said they're frustrated and want the school to change the grading policy back to what it was in the spring, when the pandemic first hit and students could choose to make any of their classes pass/no pass.

“My professors have been very supportive but I know that's not the case for all the students,” said Rodriguez.

She said with COVID-19, discussions on systemic racism and inequality across the country and homes lost in the Oregon wildfires, students are dealing with tough situations that are impacting their mental health as well as their performance at school.

“We were never prepared to be in this position in like Zoom or like virtual, remote,” Rodriguez said.

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But Steve Clark, spokesperson for OSU, said while the school recognizes the challenges students, faculty and staff are experiencing, there were unintended consequences from the pass/no pass grading system the school had in place during the spring term. 

Clark said medical schools, graduate schools and other licensure programs, like K-12 teaching, don't accept pass/no pass grades. In a letter from the OSU Faculty Senate Office to the student government, one reason cited in support of getting an exception from an advisor or faculty member was to make sure students are informed on their decision based on the requirements of their major.

Clark said the university does not have a one-size-fits-all policy and continually communicated to students, academic advisors and faculty that it was recommended they meet and talk about the best grading option for each student

But Chase Pettibone, speaker of the House for the Associated Students of Oregon State University, said in an e-mail that many students weren’t aware they could get an exception.

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Pettibone said the issue comes down to choice.

“The university has argued that students can apply for exceptions through their advisor, but this raises equity issues whether students do or do not have access to their advisors,” said Pettibone.

Pettibone also cited concerns that some students facing extreme distress may either have to retake courses, increasing their financial burden, or may be at risk of getting kicked out of their program altogether due to poor letter grades.

Pettibone acknowledged that the school had extended the deadline to Dec. 1, allowing students more time to apply to change their letter grade to a pass/no pass for courses not required by their major. But Pettibone said that didn’t help students who would have wanted to change the grading applied to their major-specific course.

Students also point to what other schools across the country are doing, including the University of Oregon, which is giving students the option to choose a pass/no pass grading system for any of their classes for fall term.

So, OSU students started a petition asking for the same.

“We got over 1,500 signatures plus and counting,” said Rodriguez. “We gotta recognize that not all students learn the same.”

Rodriguez said they just heard back from school officials saying it's too late to change the grading policy for fall term, but they're willing to hear more from students about what they want for winter term.

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