All Roads Lead to Grades: Is it Time for a Pass-Fail Option?

We all know that grades and stress are intertwined at Potomac. Is it time to talk about alternative grading systems to relieve stress?

Ali O'Brien, Co-Editor-in-Chief

As Potomac intensifies its focus on student mental health, it is time to start the conversation around alternative grading systems–perhaps including a pass-fail option in some, and potentially all, classes. It’s no secret that most of the pressures students feel can be traced back to grades and their seemingly determinative effect on college acceptances. Our obsession over grades has reached a breaking point–many students feel that their academic performance reflects their self-worth. In pursuit of an A, students will sacrifice their sleep and free time. We need to look at the intersection between grades and mental health and think about opening a dialogue about alternative grading systems. While there is no perfect solution, I suggest we consider throwing pass-fail grading into the mix of our experiments.

I know that grading has been a longtime focus of private schools, so I doubt there’s much I can say that would be new. What would be new is an honest discussion at Potomac that recognizes grades as a driving force of pressure and competition. We want to do well and to earn top grades in the most difficult classes, which creates a culture of competition that is detrimental to student mental health. As we continue to focus on well being, we must expand the conversation around how we think about academic achievement in this community, and I suggest considering alternative grading systems as a small first step.

In future columns, I intend to explore the intersection of grades and mental health through conversations with teachers and administrators at Potomac who share my concerns–and my fellow students.