August 15, 2020

OPINION: Mind over matter – why we need pass/fail classes

As a freshman, World History was always a bit of a nerveracking class for me. With constant memorization of events, leaders, dates, vocabulary words, and the like, the class was extremely rigorous, and I was constantly stuffing my mind with endless facts in hopes of keeping my grade afloat.

About halfway through the year, I realized that I actually enjoyed the class, but the part that I enjoyed wasn’t the endless memorization of vocabulary words that I was destined to forget by the end of the year; it was the in-depth analysis and discussion we held during class that brought together a full picture of what I was learning, and more importantly, why I was learning it.

Sadly, this moment of excitement for history and realization of the importance in taking the class was short lived and soon washed away with another tide of abundant facts to memorize. I wished there was a way for me to engage in a class that allowed me to explore my interest in history deeply and focus on history itself, without worrying about getting a good grade.

Student Congress’s newly proposed pass/ fail class pilot program would aim to bring about the end of this grade based anxiety by refocusing classes on learning. While the Student Congress and administration are still in the process of planning out the details of how this would look, it is likely the initiative would take the shape of a pilot program in either the history or art department within the next two academic years. If successful, they would investigate further into widening the pass/ fail system to allow students to take a certain number of their classes with pass/ fail grading.

This system of grading needs to take place in the Wellesley schools because it would allow for students to focus more on the learning and less on the grade. Student Congress president Emmett Ulian explained he strongly believes that pass/ fail classes should be instituted because “kids get caught up in grades as the end goal. All of school is focused on external motivators like college and grades, and pass fail classes would bring it back to learning for learning’s sake; that’s the hope at least,” he said.

Objectors to the pass/ fail system argue that because this type of grading would not give students this extra motivation necessary for high performance and that student work would decrease in quality when only being graded on a pass/fail scale. Admittedly, this is true. Without a difference between A-quality and B-quality work, why bother wasting time and effort to bring a project or paper up to A-standards when it would look the same on paper as B or C quality work?

However, pass fail classes will send a message that this small difference between grades really is not important. It is concerning, to say the least, that we live in a world where a mere number of points is enough to determine the amount of work students put into an end product. A pass/ fail grading system would remove that need for students to focus on the grade over the learning, and if their work quality slips a little lower than the A standard, so be it because at least now they are spending more time thinking about the content over the grade.

(Olivia Gieger ’17, Associate Editor)

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