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NY Post Op Ed on Pass/Fail at Yale Conflates Grades with Merit

April 5, 2020

Recent Yale graduate Esteban Elizondo’s op ed piece in the NYPost criticizes his alms mater’s decision to adopt pass/fail grades in response to an outcry by the Yale Student Senate. His argument is that grades are the best means of identifying “merit”, of determining who in a particular class is superior to everyone else. He concludes his distrust against the pass/fail paradigm with this:

“Meanwhile, don’t believe for a second that these Universal Pass demands are temporary. The real motives for easing standards have nothing to do with coronavirus at all. What students really want is to jettison grading permanently so they don’t have to work so hard. It’s nothing but laziness and virtue signaling disguised as activism.”

I am not going to support the main reason the Yale Senate put forth for supporting Pass/Fail but i strenuously object to the notion that Pass/Fail would lead to a world of laziness. I offer two examples of pass/fail testing that are part of our culture that we accept without question: driver’s tests and medical degrees. I have the same kind of driver’s license as someone who failed the exam five times… and the student with the lowest grades in medical school is called “doctor”: the same as the valedictorian. In both cases the “grades” have less to do with merit and more to do with mastery.

The Coronavirus is giving us a chance to examine the value of our grading system. We should use this opportunity to do so and not frame our thinking based on the existing system.

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