The Benefit of Pass/Fail classes


Opinion Editor


The education system is failing our students in many ways. Despite spending seemingly endless hours in the classroom, most students feel that they get little out of school. A key cause of this is the emphasis of grades instead of actual learning. 

My favorite class in high school was AP European History. Besides Mr. Oftedal’s fantastic energy and thoughtful instruction, the material simply fascinated me. Euro gives a foundational understanding of the western world, discussing politics, philosophy, religion and art. And yet, despite being one of the best classes on campus, providing endlessly applicable knowledge and thinking skills, every year, Euro barely has 20 students in it. I have urged my friends and acquaintances to take the class, and have found little success in doing so. I place the blame for the hesitation squarely on grades. 

The class is difficult, there’s no denying it. Fear of getting a bad grade keeps students away from Euro, robbing them of the learning and education. The educational system is getting in the way of these students’ actual learning. 

I propose that high schools start to offer the option to take AP classes pass-fail. This would eliminate the stress of grades from challenging classes, and open them up to students who want to learn, but don’t want to risk the poor grade. Class selection can be based on curiosity, without the fear of failing. Some people are already on board with the idea.

“The question is why would we not offer [pass/fail],” said AP Bio teacher Ms. Tilton. “Grades don’t make sense, they’re completely subjective. It should only be based on the AP test anyways.”   

I can already hear the arguments against offering the option to take a class pass/fail. If grades are no longer a consideration, what will encourage students to work? This is a somewhat valid concern, as grades are utilized for a reason, but there are easy safeguards against the system being abused. Limiting the option to AP classes ensures that students won’t take option liberally, as you still have to at least pass an AP class, which still requires work and dedication. Students could also be limited to taking two classes pass/fail a year, ensuring that the bulk of a student’s schedule is still in the traditional system.

Another supposed issue with instituting pass/fail is that it makes comparing students harder. While this may seem like a positive at first, it poses problems. How do you determine valedictorian? What will colleges think when they see that a student took a class without a grade? San Marcos has already done away with class ranks, making the question of valedictorian moot, and I think that colleges would approve of the change. While a simple “pass” in AP Chemistry might not look as good as getting an A, it would look much better than taking a different, easier class, like journalism or sculpture. Even with some dangers, I think the option should be implemented, and this sentiment was echoed by others.

“Any system that could increase student participation”, said Mr. Oftedal, “should be tried.”

However, some people are against the idea of pass/fail as they don’t see the need to change the system. I talked to some students around campus to see what those opposed thought.  

“I think the market of people is very narrow,” said senior Niko Cvitanic. “I don’t see it appealing to anyone. Please leave me alone.” 

Clearly, Niko was not in favor of the idea. His thoughts that the pass/fail option would not appeal to many people is valid, but just because the choice isn’t for everyone does not mean the option should not exist. The beauty of making it an opt-in system is that students interested can self-select, and students who think the idea is ludicrous can stay away. 

With little to no downside, and a potential for massive upside, the option to take AP classes pass/fail should be implemented, not only at San Marcos, but in high schools across the state and country. It is one small step in improving the education system, moving away from grades and towards actual learning.


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