CPP expected to adopt letter grade/no credit grading option for 2020-2021 academic year

The California State University Chancellor’s Office informed its 23 campuses that they are allowed to offer students a credit/no credit grading option in lieu of letter grades for the 2020-2021 academic year, according to a memorandum addressed to campus provosts on Nov. 2.

For Cal Poly Pomona, this campus-to-campus discretion is expected to result in the university adopting a letter grade/no credit option where passing letter grades A, B and C would remain unchanged, while D and F grades may be substituted for a no credit grade, according to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Sylvia Alva.

This option would first need to be approved by CPP’s Academic Senate, whose next meeting is slated for Dec. 2.

With Academic Senate endorsement, Alva assured that President Soraya Coley would approve of the policy, saying the president is “supportive of the process.”

Alva described the letter grade/no credit option as one that is “student-friendly” since it would take lower letter grades and convert them to a no credit grade that “doesn’t penalize their GPA,” while still balancing faculty concerns of being able to evaluate students’ performance especially in sequenced courses where earning a certain grade dictates whether students may move on to subsequent courses.

Alva added that in her conversations with Academic Senate Chair Phyllis Nelson, the letter grade/no credit policy would be applicable for the entire 2020-2021 academic year, encompassing the current fall semester along with the upcoming winter, spring and summer terms.

Letter grade/no credit was one of three options provided to students last semester in response to the campus’ sudden shift to virtual instruction in addition to credit/no credit and traditional letter grading options.

ASI Vice President Manshaan Singh submitted a referral earlier this month to the Academic Senate in hopes the campus would reenact last semester’s grading options. He noted that student concerns over their academic performance in the virtual environment and the popularity of an online, student-run petition “spurred us to advocate in some way.”

As of Nov. 15, the student-run petition to readopt the credit/no credit option, as the campus did last semester, boasts more than 2,870 signatures.

When last semester’s Academic Senate resolution was adopted in favor of alternative grading
options on April 15, spring final exams were about four weeks away. With Dec. 2, one week
prior to final exams, standing as the only possible date for Senate approval, Alva acknowledged
that “we’ll have to open up a pretty long deadline to allow students the option of making these
changes.”

The Nov. 2 memo, while reassuring campuses that alternative grading options are within their
control, also urged consideration of the consequences a credit/no credit option could have on
students as it related to financial aid, intercollegiate athletics, veteran benefits and
postgraduate pursuits.

For financial aid and intercollegiate athletics, the memo advises campuses to consult with their
financial aid offices and athletic conferences prior to implementing grading policy changes.
While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs typically does not compensate veteran students
for courses with credit/no credit grading, it will grant an exception if COVID-19 is reported as a
“mitigating circumstance” on their receipts, according to its COVID-19 FAQ website for school
officials.

For students seeking a postgraduate education, the memo warns that for “highly competitive
graduate programs, the lack of letter grades associated with preparatory courses could be
detrimental to the student’s application” and suggests students discuss grading options with
faculty.

Information and resources for students to learn more about these considerations are available
on the campus’ Student Success Central website. Alva also indicated that the university will
once again be organizing information sessions on these grading options as it did last semester
to answer student questions directly. Recordings of last semester’s forums can be found here.

Despite the affirmation from the Chancellor’s Office that a credit/no credit grading option is
available for each campus to offer its students, CSU campuses have deviated in their
approaches.

For instance, while Fresno State extended the credit/no credit option for most of its courses
this fall semester back in August, Cal State Fullerton confirmed earlier this month that it would
not be following suit, only allowing the credit/no credit option for a limited amount of courses.
The memo also clarified that the Chancellor’s Office will not be continuing to suspend certain
sections of executive order 1037, as it did in April, which loosened system-wide academic policy
on withdrawals, course repetitions and grade forgiveness in recognition of the COVID-19
pandemic.

These loosened policies for last spring semester prevented student withdrawals from counting
against the 18-semester-unit limit, allowed students to repeat courses in which they earned a
credit grade, excluded repeated courses from counting against the 16-unit-maximum and
authorized students to repeat a course even if it had already been taken twice.
This decision was met with CPP’s ASI student leaders pushing for the Chancellor’s Office to
reverse course.

ASI President Lucy Yu authored a Cal State Student Association resolution calling for the
Chancellor’s Office to continue its suspension of certain sections of executive order 1037 for
the 2020-2021 academic year.

Approved by the CSSA Systemwide Affairs Committee, Yu’s resolution also calls for the 23 CSU
campuses to collaborate with their respective Associate Students organizations to adopt
“flexible grading policies,” extend deadlines for students to choose between credit/no credit or
letter grades and urges faculty to be “understanding and lenient” in grading.

The resolution would not be able to be approved by CSSA as a whole until January during its
next board of directors meeting.

CPP’s grading policy is set to be discussed during the Academic Senate’s final meeting of the
semester on Dec. 2. Agendas and Zoom links for previous and upcoming meetings can be found
on the Senate’s website.

(Feature image courtesy of Kinyun Lee)

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