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Choosing Between Pass/Fail and Letter Grades Is Simply Not Equitable

On May 6, 2020 Anne Arundel County Board of Education District 6 candidate Joanna Bache Tobin presented the following testimony to the Board of Education Meeting asking for clarifications to the draft Board Conduct Policy. As written, the draft raises concerns on limiting board member participation in debate on issues for which they have advocated as a private citizen or candidate.

Good Evening President Corkadel, Vice President Ellis, and members of the Board,

I am Joanna Bache Tobin, a parent at Annapolis High, vice president of the PTSA there, an educator, and candidate for the Board of Education for District 6. I ask you to reconsider the decision to give a choice between a letter grade or pass/fail for high-school classes in the second semester, and vote for a universal policy of pass/fail. If you will not reconsider this policy, please vote for Option 3.

Board policy shapes the context in which colleges and employers review a student’s transcript to determine their abilities and work ethic. Your decision to offer a choice indicates that all students in this district could do strong work during this time, and therefore it was just a personal choice whether to take a letter grade or pass/fail. It also rests on the premise that a letter grade is better than a pass. This puts students who don’t have the necessary access to online learning, or who are in family circumstances that make doing their work – let alone doing it well – difficult or impossible at a grave disadvantage. For them, there is no real choice.

Option 3 will record third-quarter grades, distinguishing work done before schools shut down. But it will still enable students in supportive circumstances to raise their GPAs. Those who aren’t in such circumstances can only look forward to not having their GPAs lowered. That is not equitable.

Joanna Bache Tobin


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