Plus/minus system needs consistency
December 15, 2006
One year after the plus/minus grading system was implemented into UW-River Falls students’ transcripts, it is now that we can begin to understand the positives and negatives of the change.
The shift to the new grading system was initially ill-received -- a spring 2005 survey conducted through D2L found only 42 percent of students, faculty and staff supported the change.
We were told last fall that there would be a campus wide follow-up on the success of the plus/minus system. Though there has been no mention of a review as of yet, we’ve got something to say.
If the plus/minus system is to be successful, administration needs to place its focus on consistency. Not only can faculty decide whether or not to use the scale, but also how to weight the grades.
As professors differ in grading scales — for one, a 90 percent is equivalent to an A, while others set the mark at 93 - official grades lose their validity. With this type of flexibility and an optional plus/minus grading system, students’ final grades end up quite different for the same amount of work (or lack thereof).
And those who are close to graduation now realize how important a GPA can be. Academic honors and graduate school acceptance can depend on it, among others. But what does a GPA really mean if it isn’t a consistent representation of a student’s body of work?
When this year’s graduating seniors check out their final completed transcripts, many will see at least two years of flat letter grades followed by a year and a half of pluses and minuses. It’s a shame to know some would have graduated with higher honors had the new system not been picked up halfway through their college career.
Though the negatives seem to outweigh the positives for many students at this point, at least one benefit can’t be ignored. Those who often find themselves on the high end of a flat letter grade may see a small boost in their GPA.
But most of us - students and teachers alike — are at this University because we value education. Students diligently work through homework and exams, all the while accommodating prerequisites and other requirements for courses, credits and majors. At the same time, faculty design courses around the framework of departmental and accreditation obligations. And why do we do this? Because we understand a vital aspect of education: standards.
We are all expected to meet the same standards to obtain the same degrees and earn the same respect. This is all achieved through consistency — a fundamental element that was obviously omitted when the plus/minus scale was implemented.