VIDEO: Higher ed expert says coronavirus is being used 'as an excuse' for easier grading

David Randall, the Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars, spoke to Campus Reform on the move to easier grading, which is being accelerated by the pandemic.

Colleges and universities across the country have moved to pass/fail grading after the semester was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

As colleges and universities take measures to ease grading standards because of the coronavirus pandemic, one higher education expert is slamming the trend. 

David Randall, the Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars, told Campus Reform that pass/fail grading “lowers the expectations” of students. 

“In general pass/fail, no matter whether it is done by distance learning or by in classroom lowers the expectations, it lowers the rigor,” Randall argued. “It allows students to do less work and have the D be equivalent to an A.”

Randall said that these efforts will lead to students slacking in the classroom. 

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“So the effect is generally going to be to allow students to slack where human nature will tell you a certain number of them will take advantage.”

A number of colleges and universities and their students have argued that the pass/fail grading system accommodates students who may have been adversely affected by campus closures. However, Randall argues there are already means in place to address the needs of these students.

“In effect [optional pass/fail is] something we already have as administrative options,” Randall explained. “It isn’t very difficult to say this option is available for everyone, but you need to explicitly opt-in.”

He added that the reasons to alter grading methods should not include students feeling “stressed.”

“One should not do it in terms of...students saying they feel stressed or, educational equity requires a pass/fail system,” he added. 

Randall continued by noting that these efforts would add to the grade inflation that has already plagued higher education.

“There is such terrible grade inflation, particularly in the Ivy Leagues, that we were already in a position where the most common grade was an A,” Randall explained. “It took very little effort to receive an A. Graduate schools and employers were already unable to undergrad transcript as a reliable test of quality.”

“The coronavirus is simply being used as an excuse to make official the student desire to receive an A in all circumstances.” 

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Randall dismissed concerns that optional pass/fail grades would hurt a student’s graduate school or employment opportunities. 

“No employer or graduate school in the nation is going to be unaware that there were special circumstances this semester,” he said. 

He also added that testing and final exams should continue throughout the pandemic. 

“Yes, students should be tested,” he said. “Character is about facing up to tests. There should be strict rigorous tests in all times.”

Randall wondered how students who did not have the character to take tests during the coronavirus pandemic would later react to difficult situations post-graduation. 

“We want [students] capable of standing up to the real-life test of a pandemic,” Randall said. “If our future emergency responders can’t even take a final test by distance, how will they be able to stand up to the real emergency we need them for?”

Randall ended the interview by predicting that changes in higher education as a result of the coronavirus could soon become precedent. In addition, he claimed that the one positive of the coronavirus in higher education was “to clarify who is not exactly necessary on the campus.” 

“Anything done as a response to the coronavirus is likely to be a precedent,” he explained. “Not least because in effect they are bringing forward by five to ten years, and more quickly, changes that were happening anyway. That is whether for good or for ill.” 

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