BOE Votes 6-2 in Favor of Pass/Fail Option at GHS; Administration Cancels Final Exams

On Thursday night the Board of Education voted 6-2 to approve the pass/fail option for students at GHS.

The topic was discussed in depth last week, and all 8 members voted in favor of the idea in a sense of meeting resolution.

But this time the vote was not unanimous. Peter Sheer and Karen Kowalski had strong reservations and voted against.

Kathleen Stowe said the Policy and Governance Committee had met with GHS Headmaster Ralph Mayo, Assistant Headmaster Rick Piotrowski and Guidance Coordinator Judy Nedell.

The administrators recommended that students who opt for pass/fail – which would apply to a student’s entire course load rather than cherry picked classes  – recommended that individual student’s transcript not have an asterisk to denote pass/fail.

Headmaster Mayo explained that report cards are different from transcripts.

“Transcript only shows final grades,” he said. “They are stored for 60 years. We felt that putting an asterisk on a transcript, and having someone come back 15 years later, was a disservice to students. We’ll put something in the GHS profile mailed out with transcripts saying we offered the alternative.”

Guidance Coordinator Judy Nedell said, “We feel it’s most equitable to put a notation on the profile so no transcript is flagged for short term or long term.”

“They will not be disclosing on a transcript that an individual student has exercised pass/fail?” Peter Sherr asked.

“Correct, Peter,” Mr. Mayo said.

“Having a notation on the transcript will disadvantage those truly in need,” Nedell said.

Mr. Sherr questioned, if transcripts of students with IEPs indicate their curriculum was modified, why not indicate similarly for those who take the pass/fail option?

“Their grade is not different, but their curriculum is different,” Nedell said.

“The notation of modified grades on a transcript, it does not say IEP,” said Mary Forde, Chief Pupil Personnel Services Officer. “We cannot disclose that a student’s special education status on their transcript.”

Assistant Headmaster Rick Piotrowski said given students are already 15 days into the marking period, they are already invested in their efforts.

Students have until June 1 to decide whether to opt in to the pass/fail option.

“They’re not aware of the policy and have been giving their best effort,” he said. “We’re talking risky business for someone getting A’s and then gets an F, it gets re-weighted into their final grade and that impacts their GPA.”

Besides, Piotrowski said, students will think twice before they game the system, given they will have to ask their teachers for college recommendations.

“That’s why I think most students will stick with grades unless there are extenuating circumstances,” he said.

“This the pass/fail option is really only impactful for the junior class,” said Karen Kowalski. “Seniors already have their college acceptances.”

Peter Sherr said college admissions using the Common App focus on GPA and test scores, and might not even look at essays or teacher recommendations, and therefore the pass/fail option should be disclosed on transcripts.

“There’s really smart people in Greenwich, and I think a fair number of people will wait until the end, and calculate their grade and make their decision very late.”

“The way this is constructed, it has the potential to disadvantage certain kids,” Sherr added.

Karen Hirsh disagreed. “If they put an asterisk on (the transcript), we’re disadvantaging other kids the same way….We don’t want to judge students based on their home experience during this trying time.

Ms Nedell explained the GHS “profile.”

She said it was a somewhat standardized format and includes the school’s courses and data about the school. (Click here to see the GHS 2020 profile.) She said it is a resource for colleges to put a student’s application in context.

Ms Kowalski said she felt students who worked for letter grades would be disadvantaged by students opting for pass/fail if they don’t have an  asterisk on their transcript.

Joe Kelly said he was happy that the details of the policy would be worked out by professionals.

“You know a heck of a lot more on this than I do,” he said of Ms Nedell, Mr. Piotrowski and Mr. Mayo.

“There is a reason we make policies and don’t get in the weeds,” Ms. Stowe said, adding that feedback from the community was that they wanted a hybrid policy with a choice of letter grades or pass/fail.

The board voted in favor of the policy 6-2 with Mr. Sherr and Ms. Kowalski opposed.

Mr. Bernstein said the students would be interested to learn of the policy, but likely more excited to learn there would be no final exams.

Click here for the policy. Note, the BOE only votes on the policy (page 2). The regulation starts on page 3. That comes from the administration.