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Virginia colleges give students choice for how they'll be graded with classes moved online

RICHMOND — As college students in Virginia finish the semester with classes online, universities are giving them extra flexibility for how they’ll get credit.

Colleges across the state are rolling out new pass/fail grading options for the spring semester, a move aimed at helping to make sure students are able to complete classes as the coronavirus pandemic forces higher education to encounter the unknown. It’s a move happening across the country, even garnering its own hashtag on Twitter: “#PassFailNation.”

“We recognize that the day-to-day turmoil and uncertainty is stressful; conditions students and faculty are facing vary widely both in dealing with the COVID-19 threat and in managing remote learning,” University of Richmond Provost Jeffrey Legro said.

The university announced on March 20 that it was enacting temporary academic policies to “address our unparalleled conditions,” Legro said.

Those policies include a special notation on transcripts to “remind future readers of the extraordinary circumstances students faced as they completed their studies this semester.” They’re highlighted, though, by giving students the option to receive a standard A-F letter grade or to simply get credit or no credit. Students with a D-, D, or D+, though, will receive “credit with a D.”

The credit option grades won’t be factored into calculating a student’s grade point average, the university said, but those who choose a standard letter grade would have those grades count as they normally do in their GPAs.

Students can choose from the different options until April 24, the last day of classes.

“The aim of these options is to allow students flexibility in deciding what makes most sense for them in these exceptional and fluid circumstances,” Legro said.

Virginia Commonwealth University is also giving students leeway.

Provost Gail Hackett and Interim VCU Health CEO Peter Buckley announced Thursday a new pass/fail option, also giving students the choice between a standard letter grade and the pass/fail grade.

Students will have until May 15 to decide, meaning they’ll be able to see their final grades for each course before making a decision. The pass option won’t be factored into a student’s GPA, the university said, but the fail option will.

The change came with the support of VCU faculty.

“Due to the near-instantaneous move from on-campus instruction to remote/online instruction, many faculty and students have been placed into unfamiliar environments for instruction and learning,” a resolution passed by the faculty senate last week reads.

A spokeswoman for Randolph-Macon College in Ashland said the school is discussing increased flexibility. Spokespeople for Virginia State University and Virginia Union University did not return requests for comment.

At Virginia Tech, students can have an A-F grade or choose from three credit options similar to the University of Richmond’s: “CC” for credit equivalent to a C- or better; “CD” for credit equivalent to a D; “CN” for credit equivalent to a failing grade.

Provost Cyril Clarke said students don’t need to make an immediate decision on the grading.

“As they continue their spring 2020 courses online, they will have adequate time to acclimate to the online environment and then can make informed and appropriate decisions in consultation with their advisers,” Clarke said. “We will provide specific guidelines and instructions on the timeline and process for choosing grade options in the near future.”

Wes Hester, a spokesman for the University of Virginia, said the default grading system for undergraduate schools and most graduate schools where work this semester isn’t done is credit or no credit. He added that students, like at other Virginia colleges, will have the option to receive a letter grade.

“We are currently developing a way for students to make that selection in the Student Information System and we’ll be providing details to students directly within the next week,” Hester said.


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