I will begin with a quote from Superintendent of Schools Chris Reykdal in the state of Washington, “Our policy is, do no harm.” Reykdal said this during a media conference on April 22. A pass/fail system was ruled out as an option for grading this school year because “it is not informative of student learning and could harm students applying to college or other future educational endeavors,” Reykdal said.

Pass/fail does not inform on the details of a student’s learning.

Students have given their all to accomplish their academic goals, some by accepting the challenge to take advanced classes. They have done what was asked of them by their educational advisers. It proves the sense of purpose in education that families have instilled in their children. Any extra effort should be supported and it is dismissive of this effort for our educators to consider pass/fail for all students.

Pass/fail is not informative of students learning when they are measured against other students in pursuing further education. Some put in even more additional time for the rigors of varsity sports or other demanding extracurricular activities like band or theater; and, my child has tutored other students in their quest to excel.

Do students now question the reason for their effort? I would. To what end were the hours of extra work? There is risk is taking on more. So why risk? With risk, there is the inherent understanding there can be reward.

Think what pass/fail says to a child who is high achieving. It says: the educators asked them to aim high. But now, your extra effort does not matter. You aimed high, but we choose not to care. Why? Because it’s an easy way out to communicate your level of learning. Choose is the operable word. Educators chose to push them, students answered the challenge, and now you are compelled to accept their effort.

Spaulding High School is not considered an academically competitive high school in Vermont or the nation. Students have no advantage other than extracurricular activities or a higher GPA. Any advantage students can get is necessary in pursuit of further education. Students are proud of what they accomplish at Spaulding High School. The school system should not let them down. Pass/fail is wrong when applied to any students asked to push past their perceived limits.

I have watched for years as the community does its best to assist troubled students moving through their education to meet their best possible future. I expect the same care to be applied to a decision for every child’s best future. Please work harder for these students who did as we asked.

Consider, too, it only seems right to offer students who could not meet the rigors of forced online learning, an option for pass/fail. It was not their doing, they deserve it. For the students we asked to aim high and have met the call, pass/fail is the path of least resistance for educators. It’s the easy choice and does not befit the effort of all students. If the state of Washington can meet the needs of its students, so can we.

To be certain we are not dismissing just recent weeks of learning by opting for a pass/fail grading system. It will dismiss advanced courses that have been yearlong. Students have worked hard and expected exemplary results of themselves. Students have kept up with their work and it was not mere “maintenance learning,” which is a term I’ve heard thrown around.

Some students may have struggled to keep pace with their work or even to connect with the new learning system. It is an extremely difficult time for them and we need to understand. They should be commended for their effort. Offer them the option to take classes pass/fail, like colleges do.

For those students who managed through this, pass/fail is not informative of student learning and could harm them moving on to further education. Do not take anything away from these students. Students have done their part and answered your call to excel in their education. Please do yours. And please do no harm.

Shawn Stabell lives in Barre City.

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