Fiscal Report
Public Education's Point of Reference for Making Educated Decisions

New Requirements and Resources for College Admissions and Grading in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 31, 2020, the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) systems agreed to relax a number of admissions requirements for the 2020 and 2021 applicants due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As local educational agencies (LEAs) in California grapple with ways to continue delivering high-quality educational opportunities to their students via distance learning, a number of LEAs are struggling with how to assess their students on the traditional A–F grading scale, especially for those high school students who are completing the “a–g” college entrance courses that require a letter grade of C or better to receive credit. 

Many LEAs believe that it is unfair to grade students on a letter grading scale while students and teachers transition from classroom-based learning to distance learning. For this reason, a number of LEAs are looking to adopt a “pass/fail” or “credit/no credit” grading system for their distance learning programs, but are unsure of how these modified grading scales would affect high school students taking the a–g courses that are required to be eligible for CSU and UC admission. 

After meeting with leaders from the California Department of Education (CDE), the State Board of Education (SBE), and the higher education entities who make up the Governor’s Council for Postsecondary Education, the UC and CSU agreed that this unprecedented time calls for changes in their admissions processes and took steps to ease various requirements, including the following changes to their admissions criteria (you can find the official notice and all of the admissions modifications made by the CSU here and the UC here): 

  • Accepting grades of “credit” or “pass” to satisfy a–g courses that were completed during the winter, spring, or summer 2020 terms
  • Awarding college credit for scores of 3, 4, or 5 on the modified Advanced Placement (AP) exams that students will take this spring (see “The College Board Announces Online Courses and At-Home Exam Options for AP Students” in the April 2020 Fiscal Report)  
  • Not rescinding admission offers that result from students or schools missing official final transcript deadlines
    • The CSU requests that high schools provide transcripts by July 15, 2020, if they can, but campuses will continue to accept transcripts through the fall 2020 term
    • The UC requests transcripts be submitted by July 1 and requests that high schools that cannot meet that date email with the school name, College Board code, and the date transcripts are expected to be available 

The UC is also suspending its standardized testing requirement for students applying for fall 2021 freshman admission, meaning they will not require prospective freshman to submit an SAT or ACT score. While the CSU does not require a standardized test to establish admission eligibility for California residents who have a grade point average (GPA) above 3.00 and nonresidents with a GPA of at least 3.61, it is still evaluating its admission process for 2021 first-year students who do not meet this test-optional criteria. A final decision on how the CSU will adapt its admissions process in response to the suspension of standardized testing will be made in the near future.   

In an attempt to provide a centralized location to update LEAs on these various changes, the CDE has created a college admissions, grading, and graduation requirements webpage as a part of its COVID-19 resources. The webpage includes a joint letter from the SBE, CDE, California Community Colleges, CSU, UC, and Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, which highlights their partnership and provides a list of assurances being provided by the higher education community during this time. The webpage also includes a frequently asked questions list that provides guidance to LEAs for grades, grading, and graduation requirements that will be updated as further information becomes available. 

These various changes in admissions requirements and grading are important and necessary steps to ensure that students with college aspirations will not be negatively impacted by LEAs needing to close their doors and transition to distance learning during this unprecedented time. We will continue to keep you apprised of any more changes made by the higher education segments, the SBE, or the CDE that could impact your students and teachers.