History Department Evaluates Pass-Fail Grading for Juniors

After English 100 tested the waters of a pass-fail grading system, History 100 followed suit and course instructors are now evaluating the results from fall term. Last year, English 100 successfully piloted pass-fail grading, which does not assign numerical grades to assignments or factor into a student’s GPA. The History 100 instructors will discuss the future of pass-fail grading for the course at the end of this term and the beginning of spring term, said Peter Drench, Chair of the History Department. The History Department will make the final decision for pass-fail grading in History 100 by the middle of spring term. English and History 100 implemented the pass-fail system in fall term to allow Juniors a chance to build necessary skills under less academic pressure, according to Drench and Jon Stableford, Chair of the English Department. Drench, who taught History 100 this fall, said that while some students “clearly slacked off,” he was “pleasantly surprised” at how hard other students worked. Carroll Perry, Instructor in History, said that his History 100 students did “more or less all of their work, though not necessarily on the exact day I assigned it.” Perry continued, “It seemed that if there was a Bio 100 test the next day, they would place more emphasis on studying for that.” Perry, who originally voted against the switch to pass-fail grading for History 100, said that the level of discussion and participation in the fall term classes changed his mind. “Maybe this is a winner. If the vote came up again, I’d say we should let this experiment go for another year,” said Perry. Stableford said, “I was really happy when I heard that the History [Department] was interested in [adopting the pass-fail grading system]. We believe in [this system] a great deal.” Stableford said that the switch to pass-fail grading, which he described as “very studied, very careful,” has had no negative impacts on the quality or depth of the English 100 program. “[The pass-fail grading system is] not only asking the students to be more reflective, but the teachers too,” said Drench. “The History 100 teachers do not hand out grades on tests or papers for the fall term, and that means that teachers must comment more fully and frequently.” Drench said, “As teachers, we have to consider the best ways to evaluate students. What we’re reducing to [number grades] is essentially a huge pile of comments. Grades are a device for efficiently keeping track of a student’s progress.” The pass-fail system may also help or hurt a student’s shot at making the honor roll. According to Stableford, with the pass-fail grading system in English 100 and History 100, it is both easier and harder for Juniors to make the honor roll. Stableford said that a student who excels in the humanities will lose potential honors grades from History and English in the fall term, as pass-fail grades do not figure into a student’s GPA. But those students challenged by humanities courses will not have the concern of low History and English grades dragging down their GPAs. Drench said, “I think that teachers in [the History Department] aren’t so concerned with freshmen not making the Honor Roll in the fall term.” “I think [pass-fail] helps you adjust to the workload,” said Julianna Wessels ’12. “Coming to Andover, the History and English classes were the hardest to get used to.” Khalil Flemming ’12 disagreed with Wessels. Flemming felt that pass-fail grading led students to disregard the importance of work in History and English classes during fall term. Flemming said, though, that things have changed in the winter term. “English and History weren’t our top priorities, but now that [we’re receiving number grades] we have to prioritize them,” said Flemming.