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Postpone deadlines, make some finals optional

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Yesterday, several members of the administration made clear through email that final examinations would not be universally cancelled nor made optional, despite several student petitions and a letter from the ASSU executives. We think the administration is moving in the right direction by giving instructors flexibility to grant incompletes and extensions. But we feel this policy does not go far enough in providing necessary relief to both students and faculty during this increasingly uncertain time. Though we do not endorse the petitions to outright cancel finals, we are disappointed that the administration has left decisions about end-quarter exams squarely in the hands of individual instructors, without providing them standardized guidelines for easing burdens on students. We believe the administration should make two general recommendations heading into finals week.

First, in order to allow more time for take-home finals, papers and projects, the administration should postpone the deadline for assignments to be turned in and for grades to be reported. Postponing these deadlines would give instructors leeway to allow students more time to complete take-home finals, papers and projects. Furthermore, it would also give instructors a much-needed grace period for submitting grades. This time has been equally difficult for professors, lecturers and teaching assistants, who have had to rework class plans and, in some cases, learn new technology on extremely short notice. Postponing submission and grade deadlines is an easy step that could greatly relieve burdens on both students and instructors.

Second, in addition to granting case-by-case accommodations, the administration should recommend specific changes to end-quarter examinations that are sensitive to the requirements of different types of examinations and other assignments. These changes would allow students more consistent and manageable end-quarter academic burdens given their other worries. 

For some classes, in-class (in this case, online but timed) or take-home exams count for a significant portion, but not a majority, of students’ grades. For such classes, we believe a reasonable recommendation is to make these finals optional, such that students who do not take the final are graded on their existing assignments and tests. Such a policy has been implemented in many large classes already, including ECON 1, ECON 102A, CHEM 31B, CS 103, 106A/B, 107, 109, 110, 142, 182, 261, PSYC 82 and Structured Liberal Education (SLE). For exams that were supposed to be taken in an exam room in a timed setting, which for logistical reasons cannot be easily converted to take-home exams, we believe making the exams optional is a reasonable route. 

For other classes, take-home exams, final papers or final projects make up the majority or near-majority of the student’s grade, and it therefore may not be feasible to evaluate a student’s performance in class without the final assignment. For these classes, we think a reasonable approach is to lengthen the time available to complete the take-home exams, papers or projects, perhaps until the end of spring break or even into the beginning of spring quarter. 

Travel within the United States and internationally is becoming more uncertain, and the administration’s plans for students are changing by the day. Many students are still determining their plans and reacting to these fast-moving changes, and may not reach their final destination or a stable place to stay and work in the next few weeks. Considering this, as well as the anxiety already caused by the current health crisis, we believe these measures — making in-class finals optional and allowing more time to complete other final assignments — are reasonable and should be recommended to and adopted by instructors across the board. 

The Vol. 257 Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Malavika Kannan ’23, Layo Laniyan ’22, Adrian Liu ’20, Jasmine Liu ’20 and Willoughby Winograd ’22.

Contact the Vol. 257 Editorial Board at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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