Students Consider Course Grading Choices

student sitting alone at a desk studying

“I’m encouraging students to talk to their advisors before making any decisions,” Crop and Soil Sciences’ Director of Undergraduate Programs David Crouse said.  After three weeks of online classes, some students are finding difficulty with the new online format, some don’t like the solo learning approach and some have irregular, or worse, no online access.  “There are some real struggles,” Professor Bob Patterson confessed.

Feeling the Strain

These limitations are calling into question whether students should maintain the standard course grading scale for their classes, or consider switching to another option such as S/U (pass/fail) or an “incomplete” designation.  Our department faculty acknowledge the debate on what guidance to give students on changing course grade formats. 

Normally, students can only take classes S/U (pass/fail) for free electives. The university provost recently announced a change to that requirement due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Now students can take any class S/U, even required courses.  

Grading Options

“Choosing the S/U option will not affect your GPA or graduation eligibility,” Crouse advised, “but you do have to earn a C- or better to receive a grade of ‘S’.  It may benefit some students to consider this option and concentrate their efforts in specific classes during these challenging times. The S/U designation will be much easier to explain (than a low grade) to a prospective employer or anyone remembering recent history. In any case, students should clarify with their instructors what is required to maintain a C- grade.” 

This idea has some students reassessing their academic strategy. 

Just having the option to change course grading takes a lot of stress off me

“I work full time in a hospital ER. I’m keeping up with school work ok for now, but that could change. My professors are really working with me, offering anything they can do to help.  Just having the option to change course grading takes a lot of stress off me,” junior Mary Grace Phillips said. 

“I believe that the required effort to get credit for a class doesn’t significantly change between graded and pass/fail.  But, I do see an opportunity to maximize semester and cumulative GPAs by non-trivial amounts through strategic changes to pass/fail, especially since changes can be made after final semester grades get posted,” said sophomore Curtis Murphy. Both students noted that it’s a very individual decision. 

Incomplete Classes Offer Options

an NC State student studies outdoorsStudents who are truly struggling with online access, distance learning, or passing grades may consider requesting an “incomplete” course designation. 

“I tell students. An incomplete is due to conditions outside the student’s control. ‘I didn’t do the work,’ isn’t an incomplete. COVID-19 is,” Crouse noted.  

An ‘incomplete’ grants students an extension for completing the class – essentially pausing, not losing progress.  A “withdrawn’ designation loses the 60% of the progress they’ve made. “They have to start the class completely over,” Crouse said. 

But an ‘incomplete’ does come with some issues. Students have to be motivated to finish. “These students will drop off my ‘active student’ roster.  I’ll need to find a system to keep track of them and make sure they are keeping up with the requirements. I don’t want anyone to panic when they get that 14-day to completion reminder in November,” Crouse continued.

Bob Patterson agreed, “I don’t mind encouraging students to request ‘incomplete’ status if it benefits them.  But it must be an individual discussion. It’s an important decision not to be taken lightly.”  

“Our message to students is – if you’re struggling in the online environment, let’s talk.  But I don’t want to push students towards an ‘incomplete’ when they could finish the class.  In some cases the S/U designation may be a better option than having to come back and finish an ‘incomplete’,” Crouse said.  

Which Option is Right For You?

If you are currently enrolled in Crop and Soil Science undergraduate classes, contact your advisor or Brittany DesLauriers or David Crouse in the undergraduate office to discuss your situation. They are eager to talk you through the choices and find the solutions that are best for your circumstances.  The strength of the wolf is in the Pack. Together, we’re growing the future.