Pass/FailIn a world where we often give recognition--and sometimes ribbons and trophies--to people just for showing up and participating, is there any place in the world of education where a...


In a world where we often give recognition--and sometimes ribbons and trophies--to people just for showing up and participating, is there any place in the world of education where a pass/fail approach has merit?

Expert Answers
drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pass/Fail is essentially what happens the further one progresses in graduate school, at least in school administration and educational leadership.

I think that Pass/Fail is perfectly fine for non-academic courses like phys. ed. and for ELL and special education students.

What I would really like to see if the elimination of the D and the F altogether in all courses. Students would demonstrate proficiency on the A, B, or C level in a course, and they would be marked "Incomplete" until they reach at least the C level.

Fs are frequently punitive. Does the student really not know and/or is not able to do anything in the course standards? Or was the student a chronic absentee, a smart-aleck, etc.? Was the student bored, disengaged, refusing to submit work? "Incomplete" would be a much more appropriate grade and should hold indefinitely.

Ds are the refuge of the kindly teacher who doesn't want to fail a hardworking student who nevertheless has not demonstrated true proficiency, or a way to punish the smart-aleck who aces the tests but won't do the homework.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a mainstreamed classroom, where the range of abilities - and disabilities - can sometimes be vast, I use the Pass/Fail approach on occasion.  I had one student who was on an IEP (Individualized Educational Program) but was in a writing-intensive senior required course.  It was very difficult for this student to process in the traditional lecture/essay format.  Even spending tutoring time with them, during which they were making an obvious effort and were becoming frustrated daily, meant that anything above a C or a D was highly unlikely, if they passed at all.

In a case like that, a Pass is an incentive for kids to continue trying as opposed to giving up early.  Without Pass/Fail, that kid would have dropped out his sophomore year, in my opinion.

Matthew Fonda eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Speaking as an undergraduate college student, I've taken a few classes that are pass/fail, mainly upper level seminars where research is presented. I think it makes perfect sense in situations like this, and I can imagine in graduate school it would make even more sense. I think at lower levels grades are important--there must be some way to measure whether or not a student has actually learned the material covered in a class. Grades also provide incentive for (most) students to work hard.

engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I could see where pass/fail would work for certain electives, particularly those with few objective rubrics. I have never used it myself, simply because students like to know their "truest" level of achievement (or lack thereof). Also, my school has never devised a way to use P/F in our computerized grading system. Overall, I could see it working for some teachers' situations, just not mine.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Completely agree with other editors on this one - using pass/fail really wouldn't work if it was applied across the board but it does have benefits in some specific cases with particular learners. I also share your concerns lynn30k about the "distribution" of our marks and how appearance sometimes becomes more important than individual students and their needs and performance.

lynn30k eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a Special Ed teacher, I frequently use either pass/fail, or more often, modified grades for some students, in some cases. The question I usually ask (at least internally) is, "What are we going for? Do we want to see if this student is doing their best work, and learning some of the content, or are we just interested in having a nice bell curve of grades in this class?"

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don’t even address Ds and Fs in my classroom or on scoring guides for assignments, but then I structure my classroom so that students of all ability levels can be successful if they work, listen, and complete (and turn in) assignments on time. I don’t assign pass/fail as failure is not an option I give them, but they do earn completion points on some activities.

ktmagalia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My son is in an architectural program in which his studio classes are Pass/Fail.  Students' stress levels are lowered, competition isn't against each other but against oneself, and yet learning is still at a high level.  In a higher academic setting, I can see this working. At a lower level, in a setting where students resent learning, not so much.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I've always asked for a pass/fail option for brand new ESL students.  I think it is a little ridiculous to force high school students to read full novels in a brand new language when they may or may not be reading novels in their native language.

Certainly this is on a case-by-case basis and in the end, a lot depends on efffort.

copelmat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I certainly believe a pass/fail system can and should work in many different instances. Grades are too often an obsession and every year more and more students (and more likely their parents) confuse learning with grades. If our society would focus on quality learning instead of grades, the education system would be far better off.

besure77 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have also been in situations where a student was on a pass or fail basis due to problems. One student in particular also had an Individualized Education Plan. I think under some circumstances it is necessary to do this. It is important to look at each case individually and decide what is in the best interest of the student.

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree that pass/fail should be decided on a case by case basis. I also like drmonica's idea of eliminating the D's and F's altogether. This would truly cause teachers and students to achieve mastery.

staysi58 | Student

I have used pass/fail as mentioned by the other comments especially for students with IEP's.  I don't see why I should have a student earn a "D" on the regular scale and have it negatively impact their grade point; pass-fail grading is ideal for this circumstance.

lindsayloveslit | Student

While the concept of pass/fail does not always fit into the mainstream classroom, I think it is important for students to understand that pass/fail has many real world implications.

As a newspaper teacher I dealt with a staff that did not understand the concept of meeting deadlines. At the end of one issue, rather than conducting our usual critique, I passed out pink slips. I wrote the letters from the perspective of an employer to an employee. I let them know that in a professional setting, all but one of them would have been fired from their job for not completing their stories, pages, layouts, etc. on time.

The exercise was both sobering and effective. While it may not be practical to rely on pass/fail in a traditional high school classroom, certain electives or vocational courses could benefit from a structure that emulates the traditional work setting.

momtroll04 | Student

In a world where we often give recognition--and sometimes ribbons and trophies--to people just for showing up and participating, is there any place in the world of education where a pass/fail approach has merit?

In an educational system that is driven by standardized test scores, Pass/Fail is not even a consideration, and that, to me, is a setback. Many students, even after giving it their all, are not able to completely master some subjects. Should they be punished with a D because they just couldn't get it? My daughter, who scored a 32 on her ACT on the English section, struggled with math. She "failed" Algebra II and almost quit trying. We later discovered she had a learning disability in math. If it hadn't been for a caring, sensitive math teacher she probably would have never made it through college. If she had received a "Pass" instead of a 68 in her class, it would have made a world of difference to her and her education.

Sometimes student are "proficient" at a high F, but get a failing grade based on rubrics that are too specific for a broad range of students. Some teachers are unbending when it comes to just a few points. Some teachers don't realize that some students don't even have a place to sleep at night, let alone someone to help with homework.

krishna-agrawala | Student

Pass/fail approach is not just part of education education. In general there is need to assess and ascertain the knowledge, intelligence and skills of individuals. Examination and the system of grading, including pass/fail is one of the method of such assessment.

For example, many companies and other organizations conduct entrance examinations for selecting candidates for recruitment. They do not use the term pass/fail. They use the terms like qualifying and not qualifying. people who qualify in the exams are considered for the further process of employment while the other who do not do well in exams are rejected or disqualified outright.

Thus the practice of examining is an essential and useful part of our social activity. And in that situation, I see nothing wrong in education system performing this additional service of conducting examination and evaluating the level of education acquired by people. Further examination do play a positive role in the process of education also. They act as motivators for students by providing them with identifiable and specific goals to be achieved. They further aid motivation to study be creating a spirit of competition. The examination also help to assess the learning of students and identifying specific learning problems/requirements of individual students. This can be used to improve the effectiveness of education. Finally exams also serve the purpose of evaluating the effectiveness of educational institutions and teachers.