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Florida universities expand pass/fail grading due to the coronavirus

The move comes after thousands of students petitioned school leaders to make the change, citing stress and complications brought on by the pandemic.
The University of South Florida is expanding pass/fail grading due to the coronavirus, after about 7,000 students signed a petition for the change. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
The University of South Florida is expanding pass/fail grading due to the coronavirus, after about 7,000 students signed a petition for the change. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Mar. 25, 2020|Updated Mar. 26, 2020

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Three of Florida’s largest universities announced Tuesday the expansion of pass/fail grading due to the coronavirus, following petitions signed by thousands of students urging officials to do so.

Pass/fail grading, also known as S/U grading, allows a student to take a course and receive one of two grades: satisfactory, which means passing, or unsatisfactory, which means failing. The measure is usually used only for select classes but will now be available at the University of South Florida, Florida State University and the University of Central Florida to most students who apply.

Petitions at the three schools started March 17, a few days after state leaders ordered all state universities to move classes online. The petitions at USF and FSU drew signatures from more than 7,000 students each, and UCF’s drew more than 15,000 supporters.

Students at other Florida universities started similar petitions, too, with about 75,000 total students signing for six of the state’s largest schools. The University of Florida was expected to make an announcement regarding the pass/fail option by late Wednesday.

Related: 75,000 Florida college students petition for pass/fail grading, citing coronavirus

USF students were notified Wednesday afternoon, in an online message from vice president for student success Paul Dosal. He wrote that university leadership “understands how stressful the disruptions to this semester have been for you.”

“We have heard your concerns about your grades,” the message continues. “To alleviate some of your stress during this time of uncertainty, USF is giving you the option to take your spring 2020 semester classes with a satisfactory or unsatisfactory (pass/fail) grade.”

Students can submit an election for pass/fail grading on a “course-by-course basis” starting at 7 a.m. Monday, the university said. More information and the online form to do so can be found on the USF website. Once the pass/fail grading option is elected, it cannot be reversed.

Dosal warned students that the pass/fail option “may not be the best choice” for some students. Those enrolled in a course that cannot be graded by the pass/fail model will not be able to request it.

“I encourage you to be very thoughtful as you make this decision,” he wrote. “USF responded to this request from our students as part of our commitment to giving you every opportunity to succeed, especially in this time of uncertainty. The combination of your talents, this option, and the resources and support offered by our departments and colleges will help you navigate this semester successfully.​”

FSU students got a message from provost Sally McRorie, who called life under the pandemic an “unprecedented time” in the school’s history. She said undergraduate students can request pass/fail grading starting Monday at 9 a.m. through April 12.

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McRorie wrote that students are “strongly encouraged” to carefully consider the implications of switching to a pass/fail grading system. Academic advisors are available to offer guidance to help students decide what to do, she added.

UCF notified students of the change on its website later in the day, with a message from interim president Thad Seymour Jr. He told students the university cares for them, and understands what they’re going through.

“Like other college students across the country, you’ve been grappling with the stress of juggling new assignments online, or moving back home, or losing a job, or trying to pay rent, or taking care of family members,” it read. “Ultimately, we hope giving you this option will help ease some of the academic stress you’ve faced with the transition to remote learning."

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the date Florida ordered all state universities to move classes online.

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