Pass-Fail Changes the School Culture

By Griffin Callaghan, Dislikes Pass/Fail

The majority of academic institutions in the country have moved to some form of pass/fail grading during the adjustment to virtual learning. At Nobles, all classes for the fourth quarter will be pass/fail, with the only available choice being an optional Spring Addendum to highlight one’s third-quarter performance in their transcript.

I do not question the fairness of this policy, as the administration has done everything in its power to ensure that students are treated fairly. I am also not arguing that online grades should be given in order to showcase a complete second semester because not only is it not relevant to this article, but it also raises the same “fairness” question. So, I do not criticize the choice to exclude fourth quarter grades based on what it will look like on our transcripts. However, I do believe there was an oversight to the decreased emphasis of academics that has occurred as a result of pass/fail; this shift has changed our school culture.

There seems to have been a lot of conservation, both student-to-student and in the administration, about student engagement with their peers. As discussed in assembly, the all-school survey demonstrated that students felt under-connected to one another. I believe that the leading cause in the reported disconnect is a lessened focus on Nobles academics, established by the pass/fail system.

For me, one large piece of the Nobles cultural identity has been the collective workload. It is evident that Nobles demands high performance. I haven’t viewed Nobles as overly stressful in the past, so at the beginning of Virtual Nobles, the idea of a similar workload online did not worry me. In fact, I was very surprised by the plan of only two synchronous meetings a week for each of our regular classes. My reaction was not only because I assumed we would be having at least three (based on the increased free time many of us have), but also because I immediately worried about how this version of school would recreate the precious class time that we used to have.

In downplaying the importance and difficulty of classes, I believe we limit the connection between students, whether that’s discussing the shared experience of a high-intensity workload, or contemplating an assignment. We no longer experience walking up to a classmate in the library, the small texts or FaceTimes about an assignment, or in-class interactions unless we have a shared teacher or assignment. As isolation from the outside world increases, so does isolation from peers and teachers because of the pass/fail system and the new Virtual Nobles culture.

As someone with the mindset that we are challenged an appropriate amount, the lack of work that I’ve been receiving has made life feel like a perpetual lazy Sunday; this is complete with the experience of staying up late in the night and entering into a day of procrastination until I eventually start my work.

Another culture change stemming from the adjustment to pass/fail is the general feeling of not needing to put in effort. It becomes difficult to apply oneself with the same enthusiasm and time investment when the stress of grades has been downplayed so significantly. Maybe that’s the goal of moving to a pass/fail system –– to lower the stress levels of students during a time that can be newly stressful –– but we have yet to determine at what point turning down the stress will change our relationships with teachers and peers. Will this change our community dynamic in the future, or will this all just be a blip in our school transcript next year? Only time will tell.

Thank You Pass/Fail

By Kathryn Cloonan, Likes Pass/Fail

Thanks to the new pass/fail system, I can finally sit back and enjoy what I am learning without the stress of grades looming over my head every day. Teachers always claim that the journey of education is more important than the final grade, but I was never able to listen to this sentiment until now.

Instead of worrying about maintaining a certain grade average, I have started looking forward to classes. Even though they are online, I get to connect with my peers more, pay attention to the concepts and engage in discussions, and not worry about memorizing everything the teacher says to prepare for the inevitable test. Now, I have come to realize that learning is not something I have to do, but something I get to do. I am so fortunate to have teachers who are willing to put in the time and effort into teaching me at Nobles and at home.

The appreciation I have developed for schooling also comes with my being more relaxed about classes. While I have still put in the same amount of effort into my classes, I am less stressed about deadlines and have found it easier to manage my time. I now understand that I do not have to spend three hours working for one class every night to get the same result.

Putting less pressure on myself additionally allows me to recognize when I have reached my limit. When it comes to schoolwork, everyone has a time when they stop being productive. Since online school kicked into gear, I have realized that I stop being productive around 8 PM. Therefore, I need to get my homework done before then.

Getting my work done earlier means I get to reserve time to eat dinner with my family. Usually, I have to leave dinner early, but now I am able to spend quality time with my three younger siblings and parents. Both quarantine and my newfound relaxation from pass/fail have brought us together closer than ever.

In addition to the new time with my family, I am able to find time for other things that benefit both my physical and mental health. I found it difficult to pursue my hobby of creative writing during the school year, but with better time management now, I can scrape out a period in my day to do some free writing. That makes me feel happy and relaxed. Similarly, because I do not usually partake in physical activity in the spring, finding time to focus on my fitness has been challenging. Now, I have a specific time reserved between classes to exercise.

Even though the COVID-19 outbreak came at a bad time and has forced the world to spend too much time indoors, pass/fail is one of the silver linings of quarantine for me. I am a junior, so I am about to face the impending doom of AP testing and Senior Fall. Despite my worry for these upcoming challenges, my relaxed disposition, gratitude for school, and better time management make me extremely appreciative of the administration for deciding on a pass/fail system this spring.

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