July 17, 2020

Dear Students and Colleagues,

I am writing on behalf of the Academic Policy and Regulations Team (APART) to inform you of the grading policies that will be in effect this fall and to outline some of the measures that are being taken to ameliorate the effects of the significant disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic on students and instructors.

For the fall semester, a letter grading system with extra flexibility will be in effect. Further details are provided below, but the key feature is that for undergraduate and graduate subjects the grades that will be awarded include A, B, C, D/NE, and F/NE, where NE indicates that no record will appear on the external transcript. Students assigned a grade of D/NE will have the option of electing to accept a grade of D since that may be desired in order to fulfill a requirement for graduation. In addition, students may elect to have one subject graded PE/NE in the fall semester. First-year undergraduate students will be graded on the normal P/NR basis for all subjects in the fall semester.

Additional “safety nets” with regard to grading and other measures to ameliorate the effects of the pandemic are outlined below. A detailed discussion of all aspects of fall grading is also available.

With best wishes to all during these challenging times,

Rick

Rick L. Danheiser
A. C. Cope Professor and
Chair of the MIT Faculty

Note: This was sent to all instructors; dept/section heads; undergraduate/graduate officers and administrators; assistant deans; administrative officers.


The policies on grading described here were developed by APART after several weeks of gathering input and intensive deliberation. The membership of APART is listed below and includes students, the director of the teaching and learning lab, the registrar, and 14 members of the faculty, including the current and recent former chairs of key faculty governance committees concerned with the Institute’s educational mission. In reaching this decision, APART benefited from input obtained from diverse members of the community. The Undergraduate Association (UA) provided an especially thoughtful report on Fall 2020 grading options, as did the Academic Policy Solutions Group of the Graduate Student Council (GSC). APART representatives met separately with groups of undergraduate and graduate students organized by the UA and GSC; the undergraduate students included representatives of the Council for the Advancement of Black Students and the First-Gen/Low Income Coalition, among other student groups. APART also met with David Randall (senior associate dean of Student Support Services), Karen Singleton (chief of Mental Health and Counseling), Suraiya Baluch (associate dean, Graduate Student Support), and Gerardo Garcia-Rios (associate dean and co-director, Student Support Services). Finally, APART solicited and received feedback via survey forms and letters from 29 departments and academic programs, as well as from the Office of Minority Education.

The grading policy and measures to ameliorate the effects of the Significant Disruption

For full details and additional discussion, instructors are urged to consult the expanded description of the grading policy.

  1. In the fall there will be no possibility of failing a subject – that is, for performance at the level of F, instructors will report a grade of F/NE, and no record of the class will appear on the external transcript.
  2. For performance at the level of D, instructors will report a grade of D/NE, and the student can elect to accept a grade of D (e.g., to fulfill a requirement for graduation) or, alternatively, can accept the default of having no record of the class appear on their external transcript.
  3. Sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students will have the option to have one subject graded as PE/NE, where these grades are defined as in Rules and Regulations 2.64 (PE reflects performance at any of the levels A, B, or C; NE indicates performance at the level of D or F for which no record will appear on the external transcript). The decision to elect this option must be made by drop date and as for all changes in registration, it must be approved by the student’s academic advisor. The “normal” Junior-Senior P/D/F Option and Graduate P/D/F Option will not be available this fall. In contrast to the “normal” Junior-Senior P/D/F and Graduate P/D/F options, this fall’s PE/NE option can be applied to any subject including those used to fulfill General Institute Requirements, minor requirements, and departmental requirements. Exercising this option will not affect the ability to opt in for up to two classes under the normal Junior-Senior P/D/F Option in future semesters, and will not be affected in the case of seniors who exercised this option during their junior year.
  4. If a minor part of the requirements for a subject is not fulfilled, the instructor can assign a grade of IE which has a more flexible deadline for completion as compared to the normal grade of I (Incomplete). In addition, a grade of IE does not have to be resolved prior to graduation.
  5. As in normal semesters, sophomores may designate one subject as Exploratory. With an Exploratory subject, the student can either accept the grade awarded or change to listener status (in which case they receive no credit and the class does not appear on their transcript). This option is in addition to the option to have a subject graded PE/NE described in (3) above.

In addition to these changes in grading policy, APART also notes the following.

  1. While anxiety over grades contributes to the stress and pressure experienced by MIT students, APART believes that the methods of assessment employed in classes play a comparable or even more significant role, particularly in this time of public health risks and anxiety due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Noting this, and noting also that all students will be remote after November 20, APART urges instructors to de-emphasize “high stakes” end-of-term methods of evaluation such as final exams, favoring instead lower stakes assessments distributed over the course of the semester. Examples could include multiple quizzes, problem sets, shorter projects or papers, oral mini-exams, and student presentations or demos.
  2. Students with difficult home learning environments have the option to apply to return to campus via the Student Housing Assistance Review Process (SHARP).
  3. Many students rely on study groups, p-setting groups, and other means of collaboration as part of their learning process. To support and facilitate this during this period of remote learning, MIT is providing any undergraduate student who requests it a loan of an Apple iPad and Apple Pencil free of charge.
  4. Finally, we note that in the event that the conditions of the pandemic worsen significantly during the fall, it is possible that a system of alternate grades (“universal” PE/NE) could be mandated for all subjects as was the case in the spring.

Academic Policy and Regulations Team

  • Rick Danheiser, Chair of the Faculty and Chair of APART (Science, Chemistry)
  • Arthur Bahr, Chair of CUP (SHASS, Literature)
  • Rebecca Black, Graduate Student Member of FPC
  • Duane Boning, Associate Chair of the Faculty (Engineering, EECS)
  • Mary Callahan, Registrar
  • Michael Cusumano, Deputy Dean of the Sloan School (Sloan)
  • Daniel Frey, Recent Former Chair of CGP (Engineering, MechE)
  • Martha Gray, Chair of CGP (Engineering, EECS, IMES)
  • Kelvin Green II, Undergraduate Association (Asst Officer on Diversity)
  • Jeremiah Johnson, Chair of CAP (Science, Chemistry)
  • Tami Kaplan, Faculty Governance Administrator
  • Anne McCants (SHASS, History, Director of Concourse)
  • William Minicozzi, Chair of CoC, Associate Head of Math (Science)
  • Kristala Prather, Recent Former Chair of CAP, Executive Officer of ChemE (Engineering)
  • Krishna Rajagopal, Dean for Digital Learning (Science, Physics)
  • Janet Rankin, Director of the MIT Teaching and Learning Lab
  • David Singer, Secretary of the Faculty, Head of Political Science (SHASS)
  • Larry Vale, Associate Dean of SA+P (DUSP)
  • Ian Waitz, Vice Chancellor (Engineering, AeroAstro)