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Plus - Minus Grades at Drake - A Discussion: Additional comments

Resources and discussion pieces as Drake considers Plus - Minus grades

Klaus Bartschat's comments

Comments compiled by Klaus Bartschat.

Comments from Colin Cairns

NOTE:  Colin's comments were too long to fit in a "Comment," so I have included them here

Members of the Faculty Senate:

I’d like to express my guarded support for the introduction of some kind of +/- grading system. I say ‘guarded’, because I’d like to see in addition an indication of class rank beside each student’s grade.

I understand that students will have varying reactions to the introduction of a +/- system. Those with higher GPAs will feel threatened, while those with lower or marginal GPAs will welcome it. I’m sure that schools that have introduced this system have seen the expected change in GPA.

There is a cadre of student who should not (and may not; I don’t know) feel threatened by this proposal. This is the class of students who not only have strong GPAs but also recognize that their graduating GPA is only one factor that will influence their career prospects. In particular, they recognize that a carefully-written letter of recommendation will say much more to prospective employers, graduate school and medical school review committees than does a high GPA on its own. I always include class rank, at least for performance in my classes, in letters that I write. On many occasions I have also indicated whether I think a particular grade in my class accurately reflects that student’s performance and promise. In other words, is that ‘A’ “really” an ‘A’ or is it a ‘B+’?

I used the word ‘promise’ deliberately. Any grading system has weaknesses. A major one, I think, is that it measures past performance - what the student has done in a particular class. It does not measure promise. I’m not sure that promise can be measured well. Some might argue that it is such a subjective measure that it shouldn’t be measured. I do think, however, that a +/- system, along with class rank, can give some indication of promise. In particular, the change in these two measures during a student’s years here, along with what is written in a thoughtful recommendation letter, can supply evidence that the present, more coarse-grained system does not. For example, a class rank of 5/90, 15/80, 25/75 and 30/70 in four successive linked courses tells a story. (It is clear that I write as a science faculty member; linked courses are less common outside the sciences. I recognize also that class rankings can be subject to misinterpretation, especially in smaller upper-level classes; a ranking of 6th out of 10 students may not reflect the actual situation if the class was uniformly strong).

In summary, I favor a system that includes both the +/- scale and also class ranks. These, along with thoughtful recommendation letters, can provide a more objective measure (insofar as any grading scheme is objective) of a student’s performance and promise.

I think that the introduction of a +/- system sends a particular message to present and prospective students. The message is that we want to graduate students with the intellectual skill sets that will mark them out as ‘A+’, and not just ‘A’ students. It makes our academic standards clear.

Colin Cairns

P.S. You may want to advertise this change in grading system if it is implemented. I understand that there may be some unused tee-shirts around that could be repurposed.

Gholam Mirafzal's Comments

NOTE:  Gholam's comments were too long to fit in a "Comment," so I have included them here
From: Gholam A Mirafzal
Subject: RE: Plus/Minus Grading System

A few students that I have talked to informally believe that the grading system plus/minus will lower their overall GPA and therefore are not supporting the proposal. Personally, I am not sure where they get the idea that such system will lower their overall GPA?! When I explained the following grading policy, everyone were in favor of it so why we do not conduct a survey that include the following proposal?  I am in favor of grading policy that ONLY includes pluses and I am sure there are many faculty here at Drake that are also in favor of it. Here is a system that I believe will make the life easier for faculty in evaluation and hopefully improving the overall GPA of our students:

95-100    A+  (GPA 4.0)
90-94      A    (GPA 4.0)
85-89      B+  (GPA 3.5)
80-84      B    (GPA 3.00)
75-79      C+  (GPA 2.5)
70-74      C    (GPA 2.0)
65-69      D+  (GPA 1.5)
60-64      D    (GPA 1.0)

What this means if you have two students with overall class performance of 71% and 79%, one would end up with a C (GPA 2.0) and the other end up with a grade of C+ (GPA 2.5). So, I personally do not get the idea as to how students' GPA will suffer?  There are several schools that ONLY use plus system such as University of Nebraska, Creighton, Marquette, St. Ambrose, etc.

With plus system, I believe students will also try to perform better on the final exams. For example if a student has a 78% in class before entering final exam, he or she may push for 80% to get a B or at least trying to maintain his'her 78% to end up with a C+.  With our current system of grading,  students with a score of 78% may often decide there is no way to end up with a B in class and therefore may not need to study as hard to get his/her grade of C.  I believe having a plus system will motivate such students to perform better
on the final exams!

The reason I do not favor minus in grading is because then you have to use a finer method of analysis in grading that is not really necessary and I believe make the GPA computation even more difficult. In such situation, I would have had it scaled as below; however, some schools only give GPA of 3.66 for A- and GPA of 3.33 for B+, etc.

95-100   A+  (GPA 4.0)
90-94     A    (GPA 4.0)
88-89     A-   (GPA 3.75)
85-87     B+ (GPA 3.50)
80-84     B   (GPA 3.00)
78-79     B-  (GPA 2.75)
75-77    C+  (GPA 2.50)
70-74    C    (GPA 2.0)
68-69    C-   (GPA 1.75)
65-67    D+  (GPA 1.5)
60-64    D    (GPA 1.0)

I just wanted to let you all know that students strongly believe that the plus/minus system will reduce their overall GPA and I am not clear as to how they are coming to such conclusions!  If such system would not have been beneficial to students, majority of faculty here at Drake will not have supported the new system of grading and furthermore the system would not have been widely used in many Colleges & Universities throughout the country.


Comments from a Student

From: Adrian A Susai Nathen
Subject: +/- Grading Discussion

Dear Professor, 

I was at the +/- grading discussion the other day, and at the end of the discussion, suggested to you the grading scale used by my university back in Malaysia (Taylor's University's American Degree Program). The scale for the grades in the A and B range are as follows: 

100-97 : A+  (4.00) 
96-90   : A    (4.00)
89-87   : A-   (3.70)
86-84   : B+  (3.30)
83-80   : B    (3.00)

I cannot recall the exact grading for grades B- and below, and have requested my university back home to email me a sample course outline. I understand the faculty's preference to change the grading system so as to better distinguish the academic standing of each student. I also understand the students' preference to stick with the current grading scale as implementing the +/- grading scale that most American institutions are accustomed to would mean push the standards higher, most notably for the A grade. 

While I agree with the students' opinion, I also don' t think it is fair that someone who works hard for an 87 or 88 should be given the same B grade as someone who earns an 80. The suggested grading scale above would combine the interests of both faculty members and students, where it is able to better distinguish the higher performing students, while maintaining ABCD marks at 90,80,70,60 respectively. 

I hope that my suggestion may contribute to the faculty senate's discussion. I will email you the sample course outline from Taylor's once I receive the it. 


Adrian Susai Nathen

Dir. of Library Instruction

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Bruce Gilbert
Social: Twitter Page

Files from Student Senate

Files provided by Drake's Student Senate to the Faculty Senate in Spring 2012, providing student input and perspectives.

Results of CBPA student survey

The spreadsheet (below) gives responses by 120 CBPA students to a preliminary survey when they were polled on the topic in September 2012.