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Among the many casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year has been the ability of college and university students—at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional level—to realize the fullness of the academic experience. Notwithstanding the success of many faculty and institutions in adapting their courses to remote learning, students have struggled to learn as effectively under these conditions. In many cases, the natural limitations of remote learning are exacerbated by other challenges—ranging from lack of access to high speed internet to an unstable home environment to added responsibilities for child or elder care.

UNC Chapel Hill has recognized these difficulties in part by making temporary adjustments in grading policy, including an expansion of the pass/fail option. These accommodations have largely been confined to undergraduates, though some individual graduate programs have provided them as well. Such decisions not only draw attention to the inherent inequities in such a decentralized approach to academic policy, but also call into question the continued value of a letter grade based system of measuring academic achievement.

There are unquestionably many deficiencies in the way in which we assess the abilities and aptitudes of students in the United States, from Kindergarten through college. Education scholars and policymakers increasingly agree that traditional forms of testing, grading, and scoring do not reflect a student’s true capacity and potential.[1] Like many American systems, they also perpetuate racial and socioeconomic inequities that deprive marginalized communities—Black and brown students in particular—of the full breadth of educational opportunities. In the case of standardized testing this is by design—as seen in the racist origins of the SAT and evidence of its bias against African American, Native American, and Latino students.[2] The problems in the means of evaluation themselves do not even address the bias of those doing the evaluating, as evidenced by the recent racist comments of a long-time adjunct law professor at Georgetown University.[3]

Colleges and universities are beginning to recognize this, as seen in the declining relevance of SAT and GRE scores in admissions decisions at the undergraduate and graduate level, respectively. However, other forms of standardized testing and grading persist, largely unchallenged or unexamined. In light of this, I am offering my full support to the work of the GPSF Senate Grading Commission, a group of senators from a variety of academic departments at UNC Chapel Hill that is currently conducting research on these issues with the intent on publishing a final report and set of recommendations. I look forward to reviewing the report and ask that University leadership give it full and serious consideration upon its release.


[1] See, e.g., Susan M. Brookhart et al., A Century of Grading: Meaning and Value in the Most Common Educational Measure, Educational, School, & Counseling Psychology Faculty Publications (Dec. 2016),

[2] John Rosales, The Racist Beginnings of Standardized Testing, National Education Association (Apr. 4, 2018),

[3] Elizabeth Redden, Georgetown Professor Fired for Statements About Black Students, Inside Higher Ed (Mar. 12, 2021),

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