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Opinion: Pass/fail grades are motivation at its lowest

To my family, the difference between receiving an A and a B was always magnified. This always pushed me to do well in school, but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking back, the COVID-19 pandemic might have given me time to rest at home after months of school, but the switch from a letter-based…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/taijulie235/" target="_self">Zhuoyan (Julie) Tai</a>

Zhuoyan (Julie) Tai

August 5, 2021

To my family, the difference between receiving an A and a B was always magnified. This always pushed me to do well in school, but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking back, the COVID-19 pandemic might have given me time to rest at home after months of school, but the switch from a letter-based grading system to pass/fail grading severely hurt my motivation, as well as many students around me. For some, this change may not make a huge difference, as staying on top of work comes easily. But for others, like me, the pass/fail grading system would undermine their motivation to keep their grades up.

My parents have always heavily emphasized the importance of grades. Often, they prioritized the letter of my grades over the material I was learning. Considering that I took the hardest class possible, all it took was slacking off on one assignment to throw my grades off course. For that reason, grades became my core motivation when it came to doing well in school.

When the pandemic suddenly changed the grading system, however, I considered whether keeping my A’s was still necessary. At that time, students impacted the most were the ones who, before the pandemic, had been pressured the hardest. Since my core motivation came from the need to keep up my grades, what is the point of maintaining them at such a high standard when even a C is considered passing?

I am glad that this grading system was not continually used, because, for students like me, pass-fail grading is setting us up for failure. Not only did this system lower motivation, but it also hindered students from being able to find how they are really performing in school. The origin of grades was intended to keep students motivated while tracking their progress at school and facilitate student-parent communication.

The pass/fail system completely hinders these fundamental purposes. So how could students stay motivated in the post-pandemic world under such circumstances?