It’s time for universal grading accommodations

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When the Faculty Senate voted to shift to a universal Satisfactory/No Credit grading system for spring quarter, we knew that this quarter would be far from normal. As the academic year rapidly nears its end, this truth has grown all the more apparent. In the last few weeks, the country has seen historic, nationwide protests against anti-Black racism, police violence and systemic oppression. Some students have participated in protests; others have virtually organized fundraisers or seen their communities upended by protests and police violence. Black students in particular have experienced the full brunt of this moment. In this tumultuous time, there are far more pressing matters than schoolwork. 

In light of this turmoil, students have taken on a new front: advocating for academic accommodations as the end-quarter nears. Numerous supportive articles have been published in The Daily; school-wide email campaigns have been levied. As of Sunday, 12 instructors and nearly 1,500 students have signed a petition calling for academic support. Some professors have responded, some proactively and some reactively, to this shifting climate by making final assignments optional, no longer mandating attendance, canceling lectures or replacing final assignments with lower stakes reflections.

But grading changes have been left to the discretion of individual professors, and hence levels of accommodation have varied. Some courses have declined to institute class-wide changes, putting the onus on affected students to reach out to teaching staff. Some have made only minor adjustments, if any, to final plans. Without a universal policy on academic accommodations, the level of support among different classes has been inconsistent at best. Across departments too, the guidance on academic accommodations widely varies.

This spring quarter, the final exam period was canceled, leaving the end-quarter period one week shorter than normal. Instead of utilizing an exam period, the provost wrote that instructors would use “in-class quizzes and out-of-class assignments throughout the quarter to assess student performance.” As such, instructors have had nine weeks to evaluate students with intermittent quizzes and assignments. They should have the capability to evaluate student performance without the work scheduled for the last three days of the quarter.

However,  many syllabi have placed significant weight on major end of quarter assignments, including essays, projects and tests all due in the next three days. As a result, although there are just a few days left in the quarter, many students have a significant number of upcoming due dates. Putting aside the events which have shaken the country in past weeks, many of these final assignments already ran counter to the spirit of the provost’s academic recommendations for spring quarter.

For the past week, many Black students have been dealing with the emotional turmoil caused by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Many members of our community have been tirelessly protesting, organizing and advocating against racial violence and police brutality, rightly prioritizing the present fight for justice. Many are now left with just a few days to complete several final assignments, while also processing the emotions of the present moment and continuing advocacy work. We propose the following measures to support students.

Proposed accommodations 

We call on the University to implement a universal policy on grading as soon as possible. In the event that a timely policy change is not possible, we urge the University to offer explicit guidance to faculty and undergraduate department heads surrounding recommended support. We propose the following accommodations:

  • Remove attendance requirements for weeks 8 through 10 from grade calculation, and extend deadlines to the last day of the quarter for coursework that was due in weeks 8 and 9. George Floyd was killed at the beginning of week 8, and by the end of the week, mass protests had spread across the country. From that week forward, many students have devoted significant amounts of time to protesting or engaging in activism. Black students in particular have been grappling with the complex emotions these events have brought to the surface with their families and communities, while police violence is broadcast daily on national television and social media. All this has made class attendance an onerous burden. 
  • Make further coursework — that is, coursework due in week 10 or later — optional. With over 93% of the quarter completed, instructors who have followed University guidelines and properly spaced assessments throughout the quarter should by this point have ample data to grade students on an S/NC basis. 
  • Reconsider what qualifies as the threshold for passing in the context of the course. Some courses have lowered the threshold of passing or modified the requirements for satisfactory completion. This is a tool that instructors have at their disposal, and such measures are already being implemented in many classes. 
  • Modify requirements of Satisfactory Academic Progress so student financial aid is not jeopardized. This would include temporarily suspending the 60% threshold for completed units, the nine-unit-per-quarter minimum and the 36-unit clock, which currently requires that students earn at least that many units over three quarters to qualify for financial aid. 

The window for action is extremely brief – examinations and assignments are upcoming, and the last day of classes is Wednesday: in three days’ time. If no universal policy can be implemented in a timely fashion, we call on faculty and department heads to offer substitute guidance for academic accommodations as soon as possible. As we await University-wide action, we encourage individual faculty and instructors to implement the proposed accommodations. We call on you to take all possible steps to support your students, not because they deserve an easier time, but because they are struggling tirelessly to bear the great weight of injustice, for themselves and for others. 

There are few words to express the sorrow, heartbreak and outrage that the last few weeks have brought. The University’s failure to provide universal support has only compounded the stressors of an already unprecedented quarter. We call on the University, departments, faculty and instructors to concretely demonstrate their stated solidarity with universal academic accommodations. The urgency of the moment grows by the hour. 

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. 

The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to eic ‘at’ stanforddaily.com and op-ed submissions to opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com. 

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