University of Saskatchewan not changing grading system despite calls for leniency during pandemic

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WATCH: Students are calling on the University of Saskatchewan to temporarily change its grading system, fearing the pandemic could negatively affect their final marks – Apr 2, 2020

Post-secondary students are calling on the University of Saskatchewan to temporarily change its grading system, citing concerns with how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect their final marks.

Students have been learning remotely since mid-March.

READ MORE: USask temporarily suspends classes, will move to remote learning amid COVID-19 concerns

First-year engineering student Morgan Mutschler, 19, started an online petition Monday evening, urging the university to give students the option to take pass/fail grades. As of Wednesday evening, more than 1,600 people had signed the petition.

“Unfortunately, the environment just isn’t as ideal learning from home, so grades are going to be affected by that,” Mutschler told Global News, noting some people have run into problems with technology and distractions at home.

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“You don’t have that direct connection with the professors, and oftentimes, it’s just not as easy for them to answer your questions in a timely manner.”

Other universities have moved away from traditional assessment systems for the winter semester.

The University of Regina has given students four options, including taking a percentage grade or a generic passing grade that doesn’t affect their GPA.

READ MORE: University of Regina offers students final grading options amid COVID-19 pandemic

Mutschler said he’d like USask to implement a similar model, as it would allow students with top marks to take credit for their work without disadvantaging others who are struggling with learning from home.

The university said that’s not going to happen.

“After considering options, we decided that standard grading practices serve the best interests of students — both in terms of properly assessing learning, and safeguarding degree progression,” vice-provost of teaching, learning and student experience Patti McDougall said in a statement.

“As such, Usask will maintain typical grading practices for the completion of the current term.”

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All but one of the university’s hundreds of programs will maintain status-quo marking, she said. The Juris Doctor program from the College of Law received permission to adjust its grading model, which has yet to be finalized.

Mutschler said he worries students’ future job or program prospects could be affected by the marks they receive during the pandemic.

“If [engineering students] have lower grades this term than ideal, then our chances of getting into our preferred program are going to be less than what they would be if we had that in-person connection,” he said, highlighting the second-year transition into specialized engineering courses.

He also said students’ final exam marks may not accurately reflect their abilities, as it’s far easier to cheat from home than in the classroom.

The university is aware of concerns about academic integrity, McDougall said.

“We believe our students want assessments to be fair, and want to be honest,” she said.

“Assessment practices are ever evolving, and historical practices of assessing students primarily on the basis of recall no longer align with the globally connected world where demonstrating knowledge has shifted to being able to show understanding, make connections, and translate what is learned into new contexts.”

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Final assessments in many courses will move away from the traditional exam format, she said. Instead, classes may conclude with an open-book exam or a final assignment.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. All international travellers returning to Saskatchewan are required to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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