S/D/F Grading Option: Information for Faculty

Spring 2020 Temporary Policy on S/D/F Grading Option

In the wake of Grinnell’s decision to transition temporarily to a distance education model, the Executive Council – with support from the President and Dean of the College and the Committee on Academic Standing – has determined to provide students with expanded access to the S/D/F grading option for the spring 2020 semester.

For those unfamiliar with the S/D/F grade mode, it is Grinnell’s version of Pass/Fail grading. Students earning the equivalent of a “C” or better are awarded a grade of “S” (satisfactory). The “S” carries no grade points and is NOT computed into a student’s semester or cumulative grade point averages (GPAs.) A grade of “D” (passing) or “F” (failing) is recorded normally and computed into a student’s GPAs. Instructors are NOT notified and typically unaware that a student has elected to take their course on an S/D/F basis. In fact, neither adviser nor instructor approvals are required for a student to elect the S/D/F grading option, though there are significant limitations to its application.

Expanded access to the S/D/F grade mode aims to reduce student stress and faculty grading pressure during this already-taxing time, while still providing a pathway to fulfill program and degree requirements. Specifically, the Executive Council has determined to:

  1. Extend the deadline to elect the S/D/F grading option to Friday, April 10.
  2. Provide universal exceptions to several S/D/F policies and procedures, including:
  • Policy: Only one course of 6 credits or fewer per semester may be taken S/D/F.
    • SP20 Exception: Students may elect to switch some or all of their courses to S/D/F, with no limit on the numbers of courses/credits allowed.
  • Policy: Any course graded on the S/D/F basis does not count toward the minimum credit requirement for the major or concentration, nor does it fulfill any specific major or concentration course requirement.
  • SP20 Exception: Courses graded S/D/F may satisfy major and concentration requirements, including minimum credit requirements.
  • Policy: The S/D/F option is not available for individual study in any form (Plus-2, 297, 299, 387, 397, 399, and 499) or internships (GDS-300 or SOC-300).
    Policy: The S/D/F grading option is not available for ALSO courses (ALS-100.)
    • SP20 Exception: Individual Study courses, program internships, and Alternative Language Study courses may be graded S/D/F.
  • Policy: A writing course used as a replacement for a Tutorial, may not be taken S/D/F.
    Policy: A student may not elect the S/D/F grading option when repeating a course.
    • SP20 Exception: A course used as a replacement for a previously taken course, including Tutorial, may be taken S/D/F – with knowledge that the student loses the benefit of improving their GPA.
  • Policy: A student on Academic Probation or Strict Probation may not elect to take any course S/D/F.
    • SP20 Exception: Students on Academic Probation or Strict Probation may elect to take their courses S/D/F.
  • Policy: Off-Campus Study courses graded Pass/Fail are not eligible for transfer to Grinnell.
    • SP20 Exception: Permit Off-Campus Study courses graded S/D/F to transfer to Grinnell.

In offering this option, students will be encouraged to first consult with their adviser(s.) While the default grade mode will remain letter (A-F) grading, students may elect to switch some or all of their spring 2020 courses to S/D/F. As the level of disruption may vary from course to course and A-F graded courses may be required in some cases, this approach is the most equitable. Students will also be notified of the GPA impacts related to electing the S/D/F option. The decision to switch to S/D/F will be irreversible.

The Executive Council has also approved the addition of a semester-level comment to the official Grinnell College academic transcript stating, e.g., “Spring 2020 courses were completed in a crisis situation.”

The Higher Learning Commission has indicated that individual institutions may determine their own grading structures and providing this option to our students will have no impact on Grinnell’s accreditation. Also, the Iowa State Board of Education has confirmed that courses taken S/D/F and graded “S” may satisfy requirements for teaching certification/licensure. There are no expected immigration-related impacts on international students who elect to switch their courses to S/D/F; however, we await legal confirmation on this point.

There is some international precedent for this action as institutions in the United Kingdom and South Africa provided the Pass/Fail option in 2016, 2018, and 2020 during significant labor actions that disrupted traditional models of teaching and learning. Even some Grinnell College students studying off-campus in these countries made use of this option.

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