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Plus/minus system being debated by faculty, staff and students

February 8, 2007

Almost two years after the plus/minus system was first implemented at UW-River Falls, many students, faculty and staff remain confused and frustrated with the inconsistency of its use.

Junior Naomi Tomaszewski said she doesn’t mind the plus/minus system, however, it is weird to have two grading options.

“It’s not standardized and is confusing,” Tomaszewski said.

The decision to use the plus/minus grading system passed through Faculty Senate during spring semester 2004 and was implemented at the beginning of fall semester 2005.

Faculty Senate Chair Wes Chapin said the official policy of UWRF is for professors to use pluses and minuses.

“It doesn’t say that it is going to adopt options,” Chapin said. “Faculty should follow this policy. It’s the same as any other policy.”

Though the plus/minus system is the official grading method, several professors have chosen to continue using the straight letter grading system.

Dawn Hukai, an accounting professor, said letting the professors choose whether or not they want to use pluses and minuses is part of academic freedom.

“The instructors are the ones who teach the students and they are the ones grading them,” she said. “They decide how they want to grade their students.”

Freshman Kelsey Scheele said she doesn’t mind professors choosing how they want to grade, but the different grading options are confusing.

“Allowing professors to choose what grading system they will use can hurt or benefit students,” Scheele said. “It would be a lot easier for students, however, if there was one grading option rather than wondering what the grading will be like for a class.”

While Hukai said she believes it is the professors’ choice to decide what grading system they will use she started using the plus/minus system when it was implemented.

“[The system] gives professors more of a choice to grade how they want to grade,” she said. “It’s really important to differentiate the people who are on the higher end of a B and at the lower end of a B.”

Alan Tuchtenhagen, professor and assistant vice chancellor for enrollment services, uses pluses and minuses to grade his students. He said faculty members like to be able to decide which system they prefer.

“Faculty feel it is their prerogative to decide a grading scale,” Tuchtenhagen said.

Provost Charlie Hurt disagrees with faculty being able to choose between two grading systems.

“My preference would be to have one system or another, not both,” Hurt said. “It’s confusing for this institution to have both.”

Chapin said there is only one grading system, which includes pluses and minuses.

“[The University] can’t guarantee that there will be an A or A minus in a class, but the policy is that students should expect to have pluses and minuses in their classes,” Chapin said. “Whatever the grading system is, it needs to be applied consistently.”

Tomaszewski agreed.

“If a policy is put into effect, it needs to be enforced,” she said. “If students have to follow policies, so should faculty.”

It is the responsibility of both faculty members and the administration to enforce the policy.

“It is the mutual responsibility of the administration and faculty members to implement the policy according to the language that was approved,” he said.

There is no way to ensure consistency, Hukai said.

“Any grading system is inconsistent unless there is some way to enforce what percents are grades, but that interferes with the faculty members’ freedom to decide their own grading scale,” Hukai said.

Along with several administrators, faculty and students, Faculty Senate has recognized this.

“We have requested that the Academic Standards Committee clarify the language of the grading system,” Chapin said.

The Academic Standards Committee chair, Kurt Leichtle, said the request is on the committee’s agenda.

“The committee is working through the agenda, and I suspect we will get to the plus/minus issue in late February or early March,” Leichtle said.

Faculty Senate will then have to approve it.