Questions on Grading Method

What is different from the normal method about grading for Fall 2020 semester courses?

The standard letter grade method remains the default grading method. As the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated in the Spring 2020 and Summer semesters, with certain exceptions as described below, students will have the option of selecting a Pass/Fail grading method instead of the standard letter grade grading method. Students can select this option on a course-by-course basis.

Why is this option being made available to students?

Given the increased stress and anxiety our students may encounter due to health, financial, mobility, and digital access issues arising from the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic, UAB feels that offering a Pass/Fail option to students serves to reduce stress and anxiety for students who may be struggling with many changes in their academic and personal lives. Therefore, we are, wherever possible, providing a Pass/Fail option in case there are circumstances and/or challenges students are encountering related to the ongoing pandemic that might make a Pass/Fail option a better option.

Do instructors have to offer a Pass/Fail option for a given course?

As was the case in the Spring and Summer semesters, faculty had the option of requesting an exemption from offering a Pass/Fail option from their Dean. The Dean informed the necessary offices regarding his/her decisions. Any decision not to allow Pass/Fail grading was based on factors including the following:

  • Requirements of accreditors
  • Specific requirements of later courses (which will be communicated to students)
  • There are no objective assessments such as exams
  • All student assignments are part of a program of research
  • Letter grades may be recommended for post-doctoral training grants

If an exception was granted by the Dean, instructors or program directors must communicate this decision to students (preferably in the syllabus) at the start of the semester so that they are aware that the course may not be taken P/F.

What constitutes a Pass grade?

Just like you determine what constitutes a letter grade, you will determine what constitutes a passing grade if the Pass/Fail grading option is available. In case there are students in your class who may opt for the Pass/Fail option it is imperative for instructors to communicate what constitutes a Pass grade in your course. The general rule for undergraduate courses, as provided in the Undergraduate Course Catalogue is that a “D” assigned by the instructor is the minimally acceptable grade. However, there are certain courses, at both the graduate and undergraduate level, that might have higher standards (e.g., a grade of C might be considered a Passing grade).

What do instructors need to do regarding the new Pass/Fail option?

For courses not exempted by the Dean from offering a Pass/Fail option for Fall 2020, instructors need to do the following:

  1. Communicate to students that there is a Pass/Fail option available for the course and that students can select that option in a 14-day window ending on the last day of class (December 4, 2020 for the Fall 2020 semester).
  2. Clearly indicate on the course syllabus what constitutes a passing grade. This should be added to the section of the syllabus where letter grades are operationally defined.
  3. For students to make an informed judgment about selecting a Pass/Fail grading system, it is suggested that instructors have multiple course assignments in a given course, such that students can assess their performance on earlier assignments and thus make an easier and informed decision prior to the last day of class.
  4. For students to make an informed judgement about selecting a Pass/Fail grading system, instructors should post grades for all assignments on Canvas as quickly as possible. This includes regular updating of attendance status, if that is a component of the course grade.
  5. If at all possible, instructors should be responsive to queries from students seeking input about their grade prospects relative to their decision about opting for the Pass/Fail system. Some students have felt stressed that they had too little information to make an informed decision. Faculty should encourage students to seek input from their academic advisors, who are knowledgeable about the implications of a Pass/Fail grade for a given program of study.
  6. See below for information on entering grades on Canvas and BlazerNet.

Is the student’s decision to choose a Pass/Fail grading method for a particular course reversible?

No, once a student selects the option for a Pass/Fail grading method for a particular course (which is made only during the last 14 days of the semester), that decision is not reversible regardless of their performance on remaining assignments or final exams.

How will students opt for a Pass/Fail system?

Students can opt for the Pass/Fail grading method during the last 14 days of the semester. They will exercise this option in their own BlazerNet account on a course-by-course basis.

What are the consequences for students of opting for a Pass/Fail grading method?

Students have been made aware of issues to think about before they opt for a Pass/Fail grading method. It may be useful to summarize these in your class. These include:

  • Courses taken P/F will satisfy a Core Curriculum requirement if a P is attained.
  • Courses taken P/F will count toward completion of that course for a major or minor if a P is attained.
  • A grade of P has no impact on GPA. A grade of F in a P/F method has the same impact as an F using a letter grade method, namely a zero in a GPA calculation.
  • The Pre-Health Advising team advises students to maintain the default letter grade method as most professional health programs would much rather see a letter grade rather than a “P,” because there is less qualitative information about performance from a “P” than from a letter grade. Even if students were to finish a course with a “C,” that is preferable to “P.”
  • A student on academic probation who selects the P/F option in one or more courses might not be able to improve their GPA sufficiently. For the Fall 2020 semester, UAB will automatically extend a student’s probation through the Spring 2021 semester.
  • International students with an F or J visa are able to change the grading method of their courses, but must remain enrolled full-time and continue with remote teaching until the end of the semester.
    • Students who are currently under investigation or are found responsible for an Honor Code violation in Fall 2020 may not change the grading method from the course involved.
  • Students with an outstanding balance on their account may opt for the Pass/Fail grading method.
  • Student athletes will be required to consult with their academic advisors before they can opt for the Pass/Fail grading method.

How should I advise students about the Pass/Fail grading method?

The decision to opt for a Pass/Fail grading method is a personal decision the student makes. All instructors are asked to do is to specify the criteria for a Pass grade and to communicate this to students in the class as soon as possible. Faculty should encourage students to consult their academic major or pre-health advisors, and/or honors advisors. The general consensus is that if a student is doing well in a course, then receiving a letter grade is the better option.

How will instructors know a student has selected to opt for a Pass/Fail grading method, and how will grades be entered?

Instructors will receive an email as soon as students select the Pass/Fail option (which can be done only during the last 14 days of the semester). Regardless of this information, instructors should grade all remaining assignments in the standard fashion and post these grades in Canvas. The Pass/Fail option does not apply to individual assignments (unless this has been set out in the course syllabus) but only to the overall course grade. Students do not have to inform instructors of their decisions. Their decision will automatically generate constraints on grades you can assign once you come to enter grades, but only in BlazerNet (not in Canvas). Instructors will still assign letter grades in Canvas, even for courses where the Pass/Fail election is possible for students. The automatic transfer of letter grades from Canvas to BlazerNet will still occur using the grade transfer utility that has been in place for several semesters. For students receiving an “F” letter grade in Canvas, that will automatically be transferred to BlazerNet as an “F,” regardless of any student election, and no further action will be necessary. However, for all other students who elect the P/F grading method and who are receiving a “Pass” grade (as defined by the instructor for a given course), instructors will have to manually go into BlazerNet and enter a Pass or Fail grade as appropriate.

Course Withdrawal

How late can students withdraw from a course?

For the Fall 2020 semesters, students will be permitted to withdraw from any course until the last day of classes, which for the Fall 2020 semester is December 4, 2020.

Grades of Incomplete

When should I assign a grade of Incomplete (I)?

Incomplete grades allow students to complete the work of a course after the end of the semester. Generally speaking, students should have completed at least 50% of the work required in the course in order to request an Incomplete grade. There may be some situations involved in the move to remote learning that would allow an incomplete without meeting these criteria. Each school and college may have different criteria.

What are the obligations of instructors and students in the process of assigning a grade of Incomplete?

Students must request an Incomplete before the last day of classes, which for the Fall 2020 semester is December 4, 2020. Students must communicate with their instructors before this date about the circumstances surrounding their inability to complete the missing assignment(s) and request an Incomplete. Otherwise a zero will be assigned for missing assignments and normal grade calculations will be made accordingly. Instructors are encouraged to be sympathetic to the unusual circumstances facing students in these difficult times and be willing to work out arrangements whereby missing assignments can be completed.

Are there any changes with regard to grades of Incomplete?

Yes, UAB is extending the period for students to complete the work of the Fall 2020 semester if they have been assigned a grade of Incomplete. Students will have until the last day of class in the Summer 2021 semester to complete all work for their Fall 2020 course(s) for which they were assigned an Incomplete. Failure to complete the work by this new deadline will trigger the normal process whereby an Incomplete automatically turns into an F.