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Onward Debate: Should Penn State Bring Alternative Grading Back?

It’s safe to say Penn State’s fall semester has been anything but normal.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many classes moved online. But unlike last spring, teachers and students had a bit more time to prepare for remote instruction. To ease the transition to online learning, Penn State implemented an alternative grading process for the spring 2020 semester.

Now, two months into the fall semester, some students have advocated for Penn State to reinstate the same process for this semester. UPUA even launched a survey to gauge students’ interest in implementing modified grading once again.

This begs the question…should Penn State bring alternative grading back? Two of our staffers hopped into the proverbial octagon to duke it out.

Matt DiSanto: Leave Alternative Grading Behind

Penn State did the right thing last spring when it providing a modified grading system for students struggling due to unexpected circumstances. However, that system wasn’t without its flaws.

Most notably, it’s easily exploitable. Students can choose to use an alternative grade for any desired course. In doing so, selected classes’ grades won’t impact their overall GPAs. I know many students who deliberately slacked off last semester, kept one good grade, and dropped the others to secure a phony three-credit 4.0. It feels wrong and rather dishonest.

I’d also suggest students don’t really need alternative grading like they did when Penn State rapidly sent kids home and moved online in a week’s time. They had the entire summer to prepare for a remote semester and nearly two months of online instruction in the spring to find their footing and figure out a plan that works for them. For better of for worse, students knew what they were getting into this fall.

Finally, alternative grading can keep students from trying their hardest. Honestly, I can speak from experience. When I knew I had modified grades to fall back on last spring, I found myself passing on regularly studying or putting in the extra effort to secure a great grade. Without alternative grading’s safety net, students could be incentivized to work harder and take their classes more seriously.

Let me be clear: I’m against Penn State bringing back last spring’s alternative grading system. If it can figure out a way to craft a less-exploitable scheme that helps students without disadvantaging them at the same time, I’m all for it. I feel a cap on how many credits you can choose to use a modified grade for (I feel six credits — two traditional classes — is a good start) could address that problem rather easily.

Frankie Marzano: Bring Back Alternative Grading

Let’s face it. Remote learning takes a bigger time commitment than learning the old-fashioned way. From dealing with professors who don’t know how to use Zoom to having trouble staying engaged online, students need to put more time aside for school. Professors will say it’s up to the students to make it work, but this semester is very different than the end of last semester.

Students had extra time on their hands last spring because everybody was staying home. There was nothing going on in most places! This semester, students still have club meetings, practices, and jobs on campus. They don’t have the extra time to make up for remote learning’s shortcomings.

On top of that, trying to stay engaged in front of a screen all day is hard. There have been many studies that have concluded that in-person instruction is the best for actually learning the material. These are extenuating circumstances. Penn State, give the people what they want!

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