Year-old grading system meets with mixed responses

by Aaron Sorenson

As the University’s plus/minus grading policy turns 1 year old, students and professors share a comparatively lukewarm attitude. Their sentiments mirror what the statistics show — that the overall effect has been minimal.
Laura Koch, former chairwoman of the University Senate Committee on Educational Policy, proposed the change in an attempt to establish a uniform grading policy across the University system, which went into effect in fall of 1997.
“(The policy) gives a much more accurate measurement of achievement,” said Koch, who is also an associate professor of mathematics. “A student who gets an 89 percent is a lot different than a student who gets 81 percent.”
However, it has made the assignment of grades more difficult, said John Anderson, a biochemistry professor.
“There are more dividing lines,” Anderson said. “(Students) tend to be one point below the line.”
A report compiled by Darwin Hendel, senior analyst for the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, shows the effect of plus/minus grading to be minimal. Using 1000-, 3000- and 5000-level courses, the report compared grades from fall 1996 to grades earned in fall of 1997, the first quarter of plus/minus grading. The report concluded the following:
ù Students earned 68,063 passing grades in fall 1997.
ù Of those grades, 22.5 percent were minuses, while 17.9 percent were pluses.
ù A-minus grades accounted for most of the 4.6 percent disparity between pluses and minuses.
ù There were 7,682 A-minus grades compared to only 800 D-plus grades.
ù B and C grades, the two most common grades earned, had more pluses than minuses; 6 percent and 14 percent, respectively.
Although the policy makes grading more accurate, it could hurt students who generally receive A grades, said Sara Luoma, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts.
The current grading policy does not include an A-plus. Luoma said the A-plus should be added to allow students the opportunity to balance A-minuses they might have received in the past.
“It’s frustrating getting an A-minus,” she said.
Wayland Noland, an organic chemistry professor, said plus/minus grading could hurt honors students; with no way to balance A-minuses, it’s more difficult to maintain honors student-caliber grades.
Man Hon, a graduate student in the Institute of Technology, would also like to see an A-plus grade established as an honorary grade.
“It would look very good on your transcript,” Hon said.
Betsy Hendrickson, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore, said some of her professors do not use the plus/minus grading system. Professors can opt not to use the new policy.
“If I get a B-plus in one class and then a B in a class that doesn’t use them, (the B grade) looks worse,” Hendrickson said.