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Okanagan College grading system critical despite COVID-19 pandemic

A petition penned by Vernon campus Okanagan College science student Jordyn Ross has more than 350 signatures in support of the school implementing a pass/fail grading system in response to COVID-19, but the college administration is hesitant for several reasons.

Interim provost and vice-president academic Andrew Hay said the college is continuing on with its standard grading practices for the time being.

Ross said an optional pass/fail system would allow students at Okanagan College to “shield a low grade from their GPA.”

This system, she said, would recognize the challenges students have had to overcome with the transition to online classes due to COVID-19 “by taking any additional pressure off those whose grades have suffered during this time.”

But Hay said the grading system is important as Okanagan College is part of a larger education system and many of its students require an accurate grade to move on to further their education.

“The grading system is designed to communicate student achievement accurately and consistently across the programs we offer,” he said.

Okanagan College, Hay said, is a “sending institution,” meaning students complete one to two years of study before transferring to another institution — a “receiving institution.”

“B.C. has one of the best transfer systems in Canada and that transfer system is predicated on receiving institutions, not sending institutions.”

This, he said, means schools accepting transfer students require an accurate reflection of the student’s academic achievements and a pass/fail system could have detrimental consequences.

“If we were to change our grading system, we don’t know yet how that would affect students going to other institutions,” Hay said. “Until we know what receiving institutions will do, we don’t want to make too sudden of a move.”

Hay said there are a lot of moving parts as the Okanagan-wide college works rapidly to adapt to the ongoing pandemic.

“Professors are working really hard to ensure students are successful as we transition from face-to-face learning,” Hay said. “We’re consistent with other colleges within B.C. to provide options for students that don’t disadvantage them.”

One of those options is an extended course withdraw date.

Okanagan College students can withdraw from courses up to the end of winter semester up until April 9, Hay said. The student would obtain a “W” grade without impacting the GPA.

“If they run into situations where they can’t complete their course in the way they have intended, they can withdraw.”

This, however, means students would have to repeat the course next year and pay the costs associated.

First-year student Ross said withdrawing isn’t enough as that can cost students credits, time and may affect the length of time it takes students to graduate.

“It’s not surprising that Okanagan College students are really trying to find out what other options are available and help in ways that would be useful,” Hay said about the petition.

“The student voice is one we really pay attention to; it’s why we’re here,” he said. “To make sure students are successful in their educational pursuits and listening to what they have to say is very important.”

A letter sent to students April 4 outlined the college’s grading protocol.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Okanagan College student pens petition for pass/fail grades

READ MORE: Okanagan College students receive emergency funding


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Caitlin.clow@vernonmorningstar.com

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Caitlin Clow

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