If students work hard to receive an 89 percent in a class, do they deserve to get a plain old B on their transcript? This same ordinary B would also be awarded to students who skip class and sleep through lectures, but manage to pull off just 80 percent. These extremes of performance within each letter grade are overlooked in the current A-F scale. Although the University is trying to improve the grading policy with a new plus-minus system, a campus that already has that system stands in the way. In the interests of students throughout the University system, the Duluth campus must meet to pass the new grading proposal.
Recently, UMD stalled a final decision to change the grading system across all University campuses next fall. Every other campus approved the uniform plus-minus system, but because the Campus Assembly at Duluth cancelled their meeting, citing lack of pressing business, the University may have to wait longer to implement the new, more accurate policy.
Duluth is standing in the way of a policy that will best reflect a student’s performance in a course. The current grading system encourages students to aim for the floor, not the ceiling of grades. In other words, there is no reason for a student to try for a high B in a course when their grade won’t reflect the extra effort. But with a plus and minus system, that effort shows up as a 3.33 instead of a 3.0.
Undoubtedly, the new system would force students to push themselves a bit harder. But if students are motivated, a plus-minus system can only work to their advantage. For students applying to graduate or professional school, grade point averages are extremely important and could be improved somewhat with the extra points tagged on through plus-minus grading. As a nationally recognized research institution, the University should encourage its students to work toward their highest potential, not to the minimum requirement of receiving an expected grade.
A plus-minus system is not without its flaws. In writing-based classes such as English or composition, the thin line between an A-minus and a B-plus grows subjective and will vary substantially between instructors. Also, the proposed system doesn’t include an A-plus grade. Students can’t compensate for A-minus performance by earning an A-plus in another class. Last year, the University Senate passed a motion supporting a plus-minus system that excluded A-plus because it would throw off the grade-point-average scale by pushing beyond the current maximum of 4.0.
Regardless of the flaws of the plus-minus system, it will mark a vast improvement for the University. A plus-minus system will encourage students to work harder and force instructors to clearly define their grading scales. If the University is to encourage its undergraduates to work to their potential and go on to professional or graduate school, it needs a plus-minus grading system.
The University campuses have worked toward changing the grading system for more than a year, and only one campus stands in the way of making the much-needed change. Duluth’s failure to act on the issue may not, in the end, delay the implementation of the system next fall, but it does represent a roadblock in the process. In any policy with the potential to directly benefit students, such obstacles must be overcome as quickly as possible.