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Plus - Minus Grades at Drake - A Discussion: Comments from 6 Feb. Faculty Session

Resources and discussion pieces as Drake considers Plus - Minus grades

Comments from Faculty Forum

Drake Faculty Open Forum – Should Drake adopt a policy to allow the use of +/- grades in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs?

February 6, 2013 3:30-4:30pm [28 faculty attended]

  • Practicalities aside – pluses and minuses seem to be the obvious right thing to do – why should we not revert to this system? I always grade in my classes on a plus / minus system and then I have to round to the whole grading system. It seems that the whole grade system penalizes those students in the “high B” range when they earn the same grade as those that earn lower “B” grades.

  • Hearing from other faculty that I’ve been speaking with – there has been an evolution of understanding among the faculty that the use of +/- grading is not something being brought down via fiat but rather is something that is optional for the faculty.



  • Totally obvious that we should have the choice to do this – if a finer grade in a particular course is not something faculty want – faculty can choose not to use it. Thus, the arguments against the use of +/- grading being mandatory are spurious.



  • Klaus has posted a document online that summarizes some of his thoughts regarding the value of the +/- system.

  • A concern about +/- grading is that the use of finer designations in grades – the expansion of categories does not serve student learning. We need to focus on the purpose of grades – if the purpose of grades is to rank where students fall within a course, then this is only an improvement at best. If what we are interested in is giving students information on where students are in their learning – we need to be understand that the difference between an A- and a B+ is fairly minor. If we want to improve accuracy we also need to give rank of students in a course.

  • Plus/minus allows us greater flexibility in determining where differences exist among students. A 4.0 from Drake is much easier to achieve than a 4.0 from an institution that uses +/- grade ranks. If we want to accurately represent where students fall, the switch to +/- has real value.

  • This is a solution in need of a problem. At the end of the day, this is a measurement issue – I teach nothing that is objectively testable – I do not believe that I have the ability to be as granular as +/-. What happens when heterogeneous grade systems are in place – 50% whole grades and 50% +/- grades.

  • The reality is when reviewing applications we do not sit through and review transcripts and move them into two hoppers – we don’t independently review transcripts based on whether the grading system were +/- or whole grade.

  • Are Drake’s 4.0 students as good as 4.0 students from peer institutions at +/- schools?

  • I would like the option of a weighted A+ - something like a 4.25 value – GPA calculations would be rounded down for the cumulative calculation.

  • I think it is unfair to the students to assume that students are operating out of self-interest when they state their opposition to plus and minus grades.

  • The students are opposing this idea strongly – how are we communicating this to them?

  • Implementation in Fall 2016 is meant to deal with the student opposition –

  • Does switch to +/- grading influence accepting students – answer appears to be no. Thus, students will not

  • Must message the switch to +/- grading repeatedly after its passage. There will be students that are present and working their way through the system that need to know the grading system will change.

  • Not clear that “true” 4.0 students are learning as much as “false” 4.0 students that are benefiting from the whole grade system. The switch will not improve the “Drake name”.

  • I think that there are students out there with an inflated GPA that are expected to perform at a high level and they aren’t and the Drake grading system feeds into it. We need a way to determine that our top students are indeed “top”.

  • We need to be harder graders not finer graders.

  • GPA does not capture the totality of the student learning experience – if we are going to change, then let’s go full speed ahead – let’s add course GPA along with student grade.

  • There is nothing stopping faculty from giving grade distributions for each class they teach.



  • Will our shift to +/- system make students focus on numbers and not student learning.



  • Disciplinary perspectives may not be institution-wide and perhaps the change will have important disciplinary effects in the places where it is used the most.