CA AB 104 (Pass/No Pass Grades)

Update (8/17/2021): UCOP directly addressed this in its August 2021 UC Counselors and Advisers Bulletin.

Question: How will Assembly Bill 104 (AB 104), which allows students to change letter grades earned in academic year 2020-21 to Pass (P) or Credit (CR) grades, affect UC admission?

Answer: UC’s Academic Senate had already extended, in early 2021, the suspension of the letter grade policy through summer 2021, allowing students to take A-G courses for P or CR grades and still meet admission requirements. AB 104, therefore, does not affect the temporary policies that were already in place. However, please note that all UC campuses, as well as our Academic Senate, strongly recommended that students take A-G courses for letter grades during the 2020-21 academic year, if given the option. Students with slightly lower-than-expected grades can utilize the Additional Comments section of the application to provide context for admissions readers.

I already received several emails asking whether California high school students should take advantage of the recently passed AB 104 (measures to alleviate the impact of the pandemic on student achievements; find an explanation in this Sac Bee article) and change letter grades for some courses taken during the 2020-2021 school year to pass/no pass grades. The short answer is no.

There are a few reasons why I usually recommend against changing letter grades to pass/no pass grades:

  • Generally the UCs encourage students to take courses for letter grades whenever possible.
  • When only some classes are switched to pass/no pass grades, that’s an obvious signal that the student did poorly in those classes (many school districts will allow D grades to be replaced with pass grades). In my opinion, any GPA boost resulting from this suspicious-looking manipulation will likely be discounted.
  • Most UCs review freshman applications in clusters (by high school), so discrepancies in grading (some kids with letter grades and some kids with pass/no pass grades) will look suspicious (mostly for the kids with pass/no pass grades).

I would recommend students who received non-passing grades (for the UCs, that would be a D or F) to repeat the courses they did not pass. If the courses with the non-passing grades were taken during junior year and being repeated in senior year, then ask for no pass grades to exclude them in the GPA calculation. If the repeat occurred during the summer, then the non-passing grades would automatically be excluded in the GPA calculation as long as the student completed the UC Application correctly – in this particular situation, taking a pass grade would invalidate the repeat because UCs do not count the repeat for a course that has already been passed.

For students with B’s or C’s (especially just one or two of them), switching to pass/no pass grades probably does more damage than good in the grand scheme of things. As I always recommend, students should explain all anomalies in coursework pattern and grades, focusing on how they developed skills and became a better student as a result of the experience rather than complaining about how their teachers were terrible or their teammates didn’t do any work.

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