VBCA Series Part 2: Commentary, Opinions, and Pass/Fail

Emily Hashem, Writer


  • Part 2 – Looking Forward-Pass/Fail


BCA vs Other Schools

In a way, the current situation is a massive trial run for the feasibility of virtual schooling. The online school could be implemented for students on sick days, students with long-term illnesses or disabilities, and in many more situations. However, virtual learning looks different for students around the nation. This website from Edweek contains a map of school closures across the United States as well as some further details with regard to the duration of closures: 



Additionally, this map from Unesco shows school closures globally: 



The vast majority of schools in the US are implementing some form of e-learning. 


Some schools in Florida have suspended all tests for the remainder of the school year and are even halting the calculation of grades. These districts are offering parents the option of holding their child back a year as well. Most laws requiring schools to have 180 days of instruction have been suspended at this point. States including Texas are bracing for the possibility that schools will be closed for the rest of the year, affecting millions of students. 


Major concerns at the moment are for the elementary school students, for whom online learning is said to be entirely ineffectual, as well as students with no access to a device on which to participate in online learning. Districts are working on providing a laptop to students, but it is reported that only about half of districts say that they can do this. Additionally, over 10 million students lack access to broadband internet, with the disparity following trends of socioeconomic class and races. Issues also arise when it comes to childcare: students at home means that someone has to watch them, and many working-class families struggle with this. In order to avoid school closures, some suggest that outdoor learning may be the answer, but so far, 70% of American schools have opted to either reactively or proactively close. Experts disagree whether or not school closures help mitigate the spread of the virus. 


Few high schools have opted to implement a “pass/fail” method of grading, but pass/fail has been implemented in many colleges, where it has sparked great controversy. Many argue that virtual school is inadequate, making grades meaningless anyway. Others say that grades are a distraction during what is a trying time for many students at home who are trying to keep their families safe. These students are vulnerable to failing or not graduating on time if normal grading systems continue. However, the college students who oppose pass/fail emphasize that they simply have not worked this hard and come this far not to be able to “earn” their grades for the marking period. 


Linked sources/further reading: 


Pass/fail Proposal

Initially, there was discussion from our school administration about applying “pass/fail” to our grading system or  continuing with our present grading system.** In light of a survey sent out by Principal Davis to assess the student body’s response to implementing pass/fail in the third trimester, I gathered some qualitative responses from various student groups. According to Principal Davis’s initial email, a pass/fail system would mean that a 55 average in a class would translate to a 95 average for the third trimester. Many students expressed the sentiment that a 55 was too low. Some pointed out that this would incentivize students to hardly put any effort into their classes at all. The assignments are easy enough, they said, and if pass/fail is implemented, the curve must be adjusted. Students who objected to pass/fail also said that it was simply “not fair”: it could unjustly inflate the grades of students who otherwise would have lower GPAs than students who “worked harder” or “had better grades consistently”. 

On the other hand, students who supported pass/fail said that colleges will take this disruption into account and that this won’t affect admissions. Many stated that this is “only one trimester,” but this draws into question the idea that third trimester means something different for different grade levels. Some juniors especially objected to pass/fail in their most important trimester college-wise, while seniors were all for taking the last trimester off: it is the least that they deserve after disruptions to their prom and other milestone events. 

Some pro-pass/fail students even criticized the entire letter-grade system as justification for pass/fail. They said that grades are an unhealthy and inadequate measure of student success, and switching to pass/fail would allow students to focus on learning and experience rather than just getting good grades. Those countering this argument said that this isn’t the time to be attacking the system, and changing the system of evaluation so late in the game for many students (namely, sophomores and juniors) would affect too much. What better system have we come up with? What other ways are there to measure student “worth”? The two sides were both drawn into question the degree of pride that BCA students have and the amount of importance letter grades hold to them. 

The biggest question remained, however: whether or not any of this will even matter in the future. Would pass/fail really make a difference, considering the “extenuating circumstances”? Another factor is the thought that some students might be cheating due to the ease of utilizing other resources during assessments when a student is at home. If people are getting an unfair boost anyway, what difference does it make? 

** The Bergen County Technical Schools in the end went with Pass/Fail.

There might have been a middle ground taken to avoid such a radical step as implementing pass/fail. The content and appeal system could have been adjusted: For example, teachers could be more flexible with deadlines and workloads on an individual, student-by-student basis. This wouldn’t be as radical as pass/fail, but if students in a class could appeal to have their workloads lightened or their deadlines extended, it could approach the leniency that pass/fail provides without totally eliminating the basis of grade assessments. 




  • Hotlines and help links for those struggling under these trying circumstances: 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

National Suicide Prevention chat service: suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat

NAMI (national alliance on mental illness): NAMI HelpLine

Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., EST

(800) 950-6264


“NJ Mental Health Cares, the state’s behavioral health information and referral service, will now also offer help to people dealing with anxiety and worry related to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. New Jerseyans can call 1-866-202-HELP (4357) for free, confidential support.  NJ Mental Health Cares will be answered from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week by live trained specialists.”(https://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/news/press/2020/approved/20200323b.html


If you’re concerned about coronavirus symptoms, dial 211, not 911. If you have a medical emergency and know/suspect you have coronavirus, inform the operator. 


  • How to help: 
    • Donate PPE and money to hospitals (Mt. Sinai among others currently accepting donations.) 
    • Donate food (shelters, assisted living, those affected in your community) 
    • Donate to organizations in need (like ambulance corps)

VBCA Series Part 1: VBCA is Good, but How Do We Make it Better?