NYU College of Dentistry Rejects Pass/Fail

NYU Dentistry students say that the decision supports cheating and illegitimate grades.


As schools across the country move to online learning, students have called for reform on the grading systems. The NYU School of Dentistry has announced they will not be adopting a pass/fail system for their students. (Photo by Min Ji Kim)

Mina Mohammadi, Deputy News Editor

NYU College of Dentistry has chosen to reject a pass/fail grading system for the remainder of the spring semester as of Wednesday, April 22. 

Dean Charles N. Bertolami and Academic Department chairs suggested in a statement sent to DDS and Dental Hygiene students that remote instruction does not stray from the college’s usual teaching methods. Many dental students now listen to lectures through the college’s podcast system, rather than attend in-person meetings, according to the statement.

Under ordinary circumstances, all of our didactic courses are given both in-person and also remotely through a longstanding podcasting system,” the statement read. “The vast majority of our students opt for the podcast rather than attending lectures in person. Accordingly, the transition to Zoom and podcasting is not a significant change for students from our existing operation. The dental school has never previously allowed students the choice of taking a course on a pass/fail basis.” 

The statement also said that absent attendance at clinicals and simulated laboratories have given students extra time to study and as a result, student performance on exams has increased. 

Some NYU Dental students, including DDS second year student David Hodges, disagree with the school’s decision and suggested it was made off of an unfair assessment. 

“Pass/fail grading systems are common in dental and medical schools,” Hodges said. “Columbia University and many others have programs that only have pass/fail grading and their students go off to great residency programs.”

Hodges — a former science teacher — told WSN that he feels a certain obligation to come forward with his opinions and disagree with the administration’s emphasis on grades. He also said that the school’s administration is incorrectly placing its judgment on grades and not recognizing the problems this poses. 

“Grades are only going up at the school because the majority of students are cheating, they are essentially meaningless,” Hodges said. “They have as much power to punish honest students as they do to elevate dishonest students. Students are going to do whatever they can to get the highest grade possible.”

Another second year DDS student — who opted for anonymity, out of fear over administrative backlash — suggests that the restrictions put in place on backward navigation of exams, intended to stop students from cheating, only hurt honest students.

“If I do not have backwards navigation on an exam, it basically means I cannot move on to the next question without getting the one I’m on right,” the student said. “The reality is that this only incentivizes students to read notes and get answers from each other in order to complete the exam.”

Both students said the decision to reject pass/fail — despite the advantage numerical grades can give students who cheat — highlights overarching problems of the excessive competitiveness within the program as well as the school administration’s lack of care for its student body. 

“Even before this stuff, the legitimacy of the grading has always been in question,” Hodges said. “People use old tests and recalls for new tests, in which many questions are recycled. Common knowledge amongst students is that these grades are illegitimate.”

Hodges said that the coronavirus could have been an opportunity for the school to reevaluate its grading policy, but he was disappointed to see that the administration chose to place even more of an emphasis on what these students believe to be arbitrary grades. 

He also criticized the late timing of the decision, which came nearly a month after most undergraduate schools and NYU School of Law released statements regarding their updated gradings systems. 

“Priorities are different for the dental school,” Hodges said. “They are thinking about clinical operations, accreditation for lab work, graduation requirements for fourth-year students. These are not excuses for forgetting about us and how students operate day-to-day.” 

Unlike those of other NYU schools, students at the College of Dentistry have yet to make a Change.org petition. Neither of the students expect the school to change its tune. 

“We are used to feeling insignificant,” Hodges said. “We are all in our own hypercompetitive bubbles and the administration is okay with that.”

Email Mina Mohammadi at [email protected]