Pass/fail classes provide helpful alternative to select students


Sophomore Reagan Todd has a quick meet up with her counselor, Dr. Jordan Alexander.

Elad Gov-Ari

[dropcap style=”default”]G[/dropcap]rades have been a controversial issue in the school setting for years. The matter of having students focus on A’s, rather than learning has been at the center of that debate, with pass/fail systems closely behind.
A rather unknown alternative, the pass/fail system has been available at RBHS for more than 40 years. This sort of system, according to counselor Dr. Samuel Martin, is not available to all students, and may be used only in certain situations, such as medical or family emergencies, or under special agreement between student and teacher.
“Some classes are [pass/fail] by default, advisory mentors, copy center workers and teacher’s assistants are all examples of that.There are also students who, at the beginning of the semester, arrange to have a pass/fail agreement with their teacher. Usually people do this to protect their GPAs, as it does not count towards it.” Dr. Martin said. “In terms of colleges, I would not recommend doing multiple pass/fail classes, as [colleges] usually want to see letter grades and to see you tried and either succeeded or failed or whatever is in the middle. I don’t recommend taking a course as pass/fail thinking ‘Oh, I don’t want this on my GPA, I’ll just take it pass/fail.’’”
Martin says pass/fail should not be a fail-safe to a bad grade as it is not offered halfway through semesters for non-emergency reasons. He also feels finding the right circumstances for taking this sort of class can be difficult and that it should generally not be used often.
“I think the bigger question is why someone would want pass/fail,” Dr. Martin said. “So in the context of taking it to protect the GPA, it’s generally not allowed and so we try to interrogate that kind of thing out. It’s also up to teacher discretion. It’s not like you ask the counselor for permission and the class is automatically its pass/fail. You have to have reasons and discuss those reasons with both counselor and teacher.”
As for medically excused students, RBHS student Cameron Dorth is taking three pass/fail classes. Dorth, who is homebound for medical reasons, does not take classes in the building and has a teacher come visit her five hours per week.
“[Pass/fail] definitely allows me to work at my own pace, which in turn helps with focusing on material rather than the deadlines,” Dorth said. “As for GPA, these classes don’t directly count towards it, however as far as college admissions [and] applications [go] the schools take pass/fail classes into account as a D.”
Advocating for pass/fail classes, biology and physics teacher, Kory Kaufman is a strong supporter of the system and feels it should be available to everyone.

“It’s not like you ask the counselor for permission and the class is automatically its pass/fail. You have to have reasons and discuss those reasons with both [a] counselor and teacher.” — Samuel Martin, guidance counselor”

“I’ve had some experience with [pass/fail], too. I’ve had students who’ve failed my class but passed the final, and while they’ve demonstrated knowledge of the content, they didn’t do any homework or labs.” Kaufman said.  “So when the points are added up, it adds to a failing grade. If the final, which demonstrates your level of knowledge, is passed, then I believe they should be passing the class, and that’s what I’ve done with these students.”
As helpful as a grade free class would be to some, sophomore Sidharth Kuttikad feels pass/fail is cheating the challenge of school.
“I believe [pass/fail] defeats the entire purpose of difficult classes,” Kuttikad said. “I think that when you implement an [advanced placement] system it is expected that you’re going to be able to handle the workload and the grades that come with it. So if you immediately try to find a backdoor to this, it defeats the ultimate purpose of what these hard classes were designed for.”
Overall, Dorth has found that being able to take these sort of classes has helped with her medical endeavors and thanks RBHS for offering alternative learning options.
“I’m just really thankful that [RBHS] offers so many alternative ways to get the same education,” Dorth said. “The support from teachers and administration has been a lifesaver.”
How do you feel about pass/fail classes? Leave a comment!