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College students across the country are pushing to abolish grades, saying the only letters that matter now are C-O-V-I-D.

Carlos Polanco was living in a dormitory just two weeks ago, taking classes and thinking mostly about getting good grades and life after graduation. Now he is back in Clifton, N.J., home schooling his 12-year-old sister, doing household chores and worrying about the health of his relatives in the Dominican Republic.

“It would be amazing if I could just focus on my classes,” said Mr. Polanco, a junior at Dartmouth College, “but I have a lot of people depending on me.”

Students like Mr. Polanco, who have returned to a home life disrupted Press Release Distribution Services For Education by the coronavirus, have been pushing their institutions to set aside grades during the outbreak, arguing that online classes are often a poor substitute and that the chaos caused by the virus falls hardest on those with the least resources.

Over the past few days, colleges across the country have begun to respond, with schools as varied as Ohio State, Columbia and Carnegie Mellon adopting a seemingly endless variety of pass/fail or credit/no credit systems, at a scale not seen since the protests against the Vietnam War disrupted classes in the late 1960s.

Some universities will still offer the option of letter grades, while others have dropped them altogether. But that’s not good enough for some students, who are seeking a “universal pass” — meaning that nobody would fail, regardless of performance and whether they can continue to take online classes, and that letter grades would be abolished.


The idea has acquired petition campaigns on scores of campuses and even an acronym among the cognoscenti: UP.

“The reality is, there are people who will not pass their classes, there are people who will not finish the semester, who will not graduate on time,” Mr. Polanco said. “The most vulnerable will be drastically harmed.”

But some institutions, and even students, have resisted proposals to give Education News everyone equal marks, saying that the idea gives “gut courses” new meaning. It is possible to work hard, they say, even when your world has been turned upside down.

The debate is of particular concern to students trying to raise their grade-point averages in their final year or two of college to qualify for law, medical or business schools. Some fear it will hurt their chances if their college careers end with a “pass” instead of high marks.

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