What is Happening with Grades re: College Admissions?

Guest post by Katie Garrett of Garrett Educational Consulting

So it is official. No one will be returning to campus for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. CMS, along with the local private schools, have all announced that they will remain in remote learning through the end of the year. What I have come to learn over the course of my countless Zoom calls with parents and students over the past month or so, is that the teaching and learning going on in the virtual world varies drastically between schools, teachers, and students. 

What are the high schools going to do with grades for Spring 2020?

I think there are a number of high schools that would also love to know the answer to that question. The reality of it is that many schools and school systems are still trying to figure that out. While some high schools have already decided to switch to the Pass/Fail method of grading including many of the well-known boarding schools like Phillips Exeter, Phillips Andover, Lawrenceville, and Taft, others have opted to continue with their traditional method of grading whether it be numerical or letter grades. And others have given the students the choice of how they want to receive grades for the term and/or the year. 

In late April, CMS released the following in regards to final grades:

Students in grades 9-11 and non-graduating seniors will choose how each final course grade will appear on their transcript for their currently enrolled courses, year-long and semester courses. Students are able to select their preferred grading method per course and those will be recorded by the teacher between June 1-11.

  • Option 1
  • Report the numeric grade, their highest grade representing either their learning as of March 13 or as improved through the semester as remote learning continued.
  • Students will receive course credit.
  • The numeric grade and quality points for each course will be used to calculate GPA.
  • Option 2:
  • Report a PC19 (Pass) or WC19 (Withdraw).
  • Students opting to receive a PC19 will receive course credit.
  • PC19 and WC19 will not impact GPA.
  • WC19 receives no course credit but students could take advantage of future credit recovery or repeating a course for credit.

Since then, there has been some additional clarification around what this means for students and what will be excused from the past and what is expected going forward. While all students are expected to complete all assignments, they will not be held accountable for the assignments from April 6-30, meaning that if assignments were completed and submitted, they can improve their grade, but if they did not complete and submit them, they will be exempt from those assignments and they will not negatively impact their grade. That being said, so many of these lessons build on each other, so while it might not impact your child’s grade immediately, it can have an impact on their future classes when they are lacking those foundational concepts. 

Beginning May 1 and extending through May 29, teachers will be required to assign 1-2 assignments per week and the students will be graded for “Mastery, Partial Mastery, Non-Mastery, or No Submission.” The lowest grade that a student can receive for “Non-Mastery” or “No Submission” is a 59+. All grades are considered “Informal” and there will be no final exams aside from the scheduled AP Exams.

The private schools have all taken different approaches to grading during this time.

CCDS Upper School has decided to use an 80/20 model for grading this semester. The midterm grade will count for 80% of the semester average, while the grade for remote learning will count 20% of the semester average.

Charlotte Latin School has opted to divide the second semester into two marking periods, marking period three and marking period four. If the MP3 average is higher than MP4, then MP3 will count as 65% of the semester values and MP4 will count as 35%. If the MP4 average is higher than MP3, they will weigh both MP3 and MP4 equally at 50% of the semester’s value.

Providence Day School is making accommodations for at home learning and the learning styles of their students with more open book tests and no final exams.

While there may be differences in each school’s approach to grading, every administrator and every teacher wants to see every student find success and feel supported during these unprecedented times. Reach out to your child’s teachers, or better yet, encourage your child to reach out to their teachers for additional guidance. That being said, regardless of what your child’s school decides to do with grading, I would strongly encourage students to complete all the work to the best of their ability as it will help eliminate some of the catch up that they might need to do when they eventually return to school. 

How will the colleges view my child’s grades for Spring 2020?

The general consensus is that colleges will be understanding of students’ grading situations for Spring 2020. If your child’s school went to the Pass/Fail model, that will not be held against them in the admissions process. If their school continued with its current grading method and your child’s grades slipped a bit, they will likely understand that there are reasons that could be beyond their control like access to technology and internet, learning challenges, family difficulties, etc. Again, it is in your child’s best interest to keep up with the readings and assignments and do them as if it counts, because at some point it will! 

The bigger question is, “What will colleges do with Spring 2020 grades?” The answer is that we don’t really know that yet. The grading varies so significantly from school to school and state to state, and is becoming even less consistent during COVID-19, that there is not a way for colleges to equate them, leaving a multitude of options that could arise during the application process. Will colleges opt to pull Spring 2020 grades out of their internal GPA admission calculations? Perhaps, but only time will tell and it will likely not be consistent across colleges.

If my child has the opportunity to select going Pass/Fail or graded, what would colleges rather see?

This question is similar to the dreaded question, “Is it better to get a B in an Honors/AP class or an A in a regular class?” The consistent answer from every college admissions officer is to get an A in the Honors/AP class which does not exactly answer the question. So, in my opinion, I would think that the colleges would rather see the letter grade versus P/F even if it is slightly lower than the student’s GPA prior to COVID-19. If there are extenuating circumstances that caused a students grades to be drastically lower than what they have previously earned, it might be in the students best interest to go P/F in that particular course. However, they will need to be prepared to explain what those extenuating circumstances were.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that we are in a situation that none of us could have prepared for in advance and we are all trying to do the best we can given the uncertainty. I would encourage you to reach out to your teachers and  school administrators if you have questions or concerns as I know they are wanting to help their students navigate these uncharted waters. 

Garrett Educational Consulting, LLC is a full-service, academic consulting firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina. With over twenty years experience in education and counseling, Katie Garrett guides and supports students and families that are navigating important academic decisions. Services include all aspects of academic advising, comprehensive college planning, independent day school consulting, and boarding school application guidance. 

Garrett Educational Consulting


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