Hunter Students Took Advantage of Flexible Spring Grading Policy, Documents Show

Grade distribution reports obtained by The Envoy show that in the spring 2020 semester, many Hunter students took advantage of a flexible grading policy implemented by CUNY in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The documents show that in the spring 2020 semester, there were about 2.8 times as many requests for credit/no-credit grades among undergraduate students as in spring 2019. 

Letter grades were generally higher for this historic spring semester than they were last spring, with a higher portion of grades in the A-range and a much lower portion of grades in the D-and-F-range. Final grades in the C-range also decreased. 

Data from grade distribution reports obtained from Hunter College. Grades that are not letter grades or CR/NC are not included. Graphic by Lauren Hakimi, made using Google Sheets

The Envoy wasn’t able to break the data down by department, but the grade distribution reports for spring 2019 and spring 2020 are available for readers to view. The reports also contain grade distribution information for PhD students and graduate students. 

In spring, CUNY implemented a temporary grading policy in response to technological challenges associated with the sudden mid-semester switch to distance learning. Credit/No Credit already existed at Hunter College as a system allowing students to opt out of receiving letter grades while still potentially getting credit for their courses, but the flexible grading policy CUNY announced in March overrode Hunter’s usual policy.

Under the CUNY policy, students had 20 business days after the grade submission deadline to decide whether they wanted to convert their letter grades into CR/NC grades. Hunter students usually have to make this decision before receiving their grades. Hunter also limits students to 4 CR/NC grades throughout their undergraduate career, but CR/NC grades given for spring 2020 don’t count toward this maximum, according to a Hunter spokesperson.

Under Hunter’s CR/NC system, grades of A, B and C convert to CR, and grades of D and F convert to NC. However, under CUNY’s more lenient policy, D grades converted to CR rather than NC. The university-wide grading policy also expanded the kinds of classes for which Hunter students were allowed to request binary grades.

CUNY decided not to extend the flexible grading system to the summer semester, and according to an email from Hunter College President Jennifer Raab, it won’t be extended to fall either.

Computer science major Tom Reingold accounted for one of the 4,925 grades for which students requested CR/NC. He originally got a C in his computer science class, but decided to convert it because it would’ve lowered his GPA. “There’s really no downside. Those who look at the grade, they know what it is,” he explained.

Statistics major Evin Lin is also concerned about how a CR might come across. Lin said his number one concern when applying to graduate school is that some admissions officers might count it against him that he had a CR grade, but he’s hoping they will understand. “It’s happened everywhere in the world,” he said, “and when you bring it up in your graduate interview or wherever is asking about this, there’s a reason for it.”

Lin said he got grades in the A range for most of his spring classes, but he got a B- in a math class with a professor who he doesn’t think handled the transition to distance learning well. “My professor wasn’t really trying to settle for the online way of teaching. He was still insisting all the homework has to be handwritten” even after remote learning began, Lin said. He said that if not for the pandemic, he wouldn’t have utilized CR/NC.

Reingold said his professor was supportive, but the stress associated with the pandemic made learning more difficult. Part of the stress came from “just hearing the news and seeing that people are going hungry and companies are folding and people are dying,” he said. 

Other stress came from learning itself. Reingold said Zoom classes are more tiring than in-person classes because it takes “a lot of energy to connect.” And the ways that he used to communicate with classmates, like hanging out in a computer lab or meeting someone on an elevator, are gone. He considers online group chats a poor substitute. “We don’t have each other’s brains to mesh with,” he said, “and that leaves us stupider, less capable. It’s a real setback.”

According to an email sent on Thursday from Raab, CUNY has decided not to extend the flexible grading policy to fall. This semester, “our standing Hunter credit/no credit policy will resume,” she wrote. “The Flexible Grading Policy was approved by CUNY’s Board of Trustees exclusively for the Spring 2020 semester to address the realities of a major, unexpected mid-semester disruption,” explained Hunter spokesperson Bob de Luna in a statement to The Envoy.

While the spring 2020 grading policy won’t be extended, CUNY did decide to make permanent a spring grading policy giving students until the end of the semester to decide whether they want to withdraw officially from a course. Macaulay Honors College is also extending the lenient pandemic policy it practiced in spring so that students not meeting the usual requirements can still remain in the program and graduate.

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