Optional alternative grading system reimplemented for fall 2020 semester

November 11, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State is reimplementing its opt-in alternative grading system for the fall 2020 semester to support and provide flexibility to undergraduate students who may be facing significant challenges academically due to circumstances beyond their control related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Students should use alternative grading very cautiously and with a great deal of attention to the potential long-term implications of these decisions, especially for the selection of SAT (Satisfactory) grades.

For the fall 2020 semester, undergraduate students will be able to choose to keep the grade earned in each of their courses, or to have one or more grades replaced with one of three alternative grades that have no impact on GPA calculation: — SAT (Satisfactory); V (Pass); or Z (No Grade). More information is included below.

 Alternative grades will be available for selection in LionPath starting Dec. 23, and must be selected by the deadline of midnight on Jan. 12, 2021. Penn State strongly encourages students to strive for the best grade possible in all classes to best support their future learning and success, and to think about the use of alternative grading cautiously before selecting any alternative grades. Learning is measured in additional ways beyond GPA, and students considering any alternative grades should meet with their academic advisor to consider the potential implications of using alternative grades on future academic and professional pursuits – including future applications to graduate, law or medical school, applications to professional licensing organizations, and employment opportunities. Students are strongly encouraged to consult with their advisor about the implications of using alternative grading.

The three alternative grades are:

  • SAT (Satisfactory). This grade will be available if a student earns a C or better in a course. A course with a SAT grade can be used to meet prerequisites for future courses requiring a C or better.
  • V (Pass). This grade, which will be available if a student earns a D in a course, will be considered a passing grade. The student will earn credits for the course, and a V grade can be used to meet requirements for which D is an acceptable grade. The V grade cannot be used to meet C or better requirements.
  • Z (No Grade). This grade will be available if a student earns an F in a course. Z can be used to replace an F grade and will be treated similarly to if the student had late-dropped the class.

Alternative grading will be available to undergraduate students across the University, including World Campus students. Students in an integrated graduate-undergraduate (IUG) program cannot request alternative grades for courses applied to their graduate program. Alternative grading is not available for students enrolled in post- baccalaureate degree programs at Penn State including Penn State Law, Dickinson Law, the MD program and physician assistant program within the College of Medicine, and the Graduate School. The Graduate School has provided a process for exceptions in cases where students have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. Details will be available on the Graduate School’s website soon.

Any student who has received an academic sanction as the result of a violation of academic integrity will not be allowed to select alternative grading for that course.

Unlike the spring 2020 semester, Penn State will place students on academic warning or academic suspension based on their GPA, which will be calculated after the alternative grade submission deadline of Jan. 12. Although alternative grades have no GPA impact, it will still be possible to enter academic warning or suspension based on the GPA calculated from all remaining standard letter grades.

Certain elements of the alternative grading policy – including how alternative grades will impact calculations for Dean’s Lists and entrance-to-major requirements – are still under consideration by Penn State’s Administrative Council for Undergraduate Education (ACUE). In addition, the use of alternative grades may make a student ineligible for certain awards and scholarships. These details are expected to be final by Dec. 3, and additional information is forthcoming. The official ACUE alternative grading policy is available here and will be updated as decisions are finalized. In addition, more information and FAQs about the use of alternative grading can be found at keeplearning.psu.edu.

Alternative grading is being reinstated following a recent vote from the Penn State Faculty Senate, which reimplemented its alternative grading policy in response to a resolution drafted by student senators. Faculty Senate Chair Beth Seymour also stated that -- given the uncertainty of how long the coronavirus pandemic will last -- the Faculty Senate and ACUE plan to form a joint taskforce comprised of senators, students, advisers and administrators to explore the possibility of alternative grading in future semesters.

Last Updated November 17, 2020