The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

The Department of Psychology


Tanya Madden

When it comes to grading policies, a bit of pedagogical benevolence (combined, at times, with downright mercy) can be a most admirable trait. However, when such benevolence is dispensed at the expense of equity, all students should be concerned. The "benevolent gesture" I refer to is, of course, the new plus/minus grading system effective as of last quarter.

On the most superficial level, the plus/minus system appears to be a more equitable system than the former A-F grading policy. First, it distinguishes between levels of a particular grade; that is, it acknowledges the difference between a B+ and B- student. Second, it eliminates the need for seemingly arbitrary assignments of grades based on extraneous factors to students on the borderline between grades. Finally, it affords almost all students many more opportunities to improve their overall GPA.

Oh, allow me to reiterate, "This new system affords almost all students many more opportunities to improve their overall GPA." Certainly those concerned with equity in academics would want to know exactly which students would not benefit from the plus/minus system. But before I reveal this long awaited information I must add that some students may actually be penalized by this new system and these students have the highest GPAs. Yes, the "straight A" students are penalized by plus/minus grading. They reap the rotten crop sowed by the farmers in administration!

Now, I realize that campaigning for academic justice for straight A students is not an especially sympathetic cause but, well, someone has to do it (because the A students are far too busy studying to do it for themselves). Thus, I have rather self righteously appointed myself as a representative of the "4.0s" whose duty it is to elucidate the inequities in the plus/minus system via the following example.

Let us imagine that Dr. Magnanimous used the former A-F grading system in his altruism class. There was a total of 100 possible points earned by the end of the quarter and our venerable Ph.D. issued grades in increments of 10 points; that is, 90-100 points was an A, 80-89 points was a B, etc. Anything below 50 points was an F. In this class, every student had a 10 point range in which he/she could have scored and still maintained a particular grade.

Now, let us consider that Dr. Miser used the new plus/minus system in his parsimony class. He also had a total of 100 possible points earned by the end of the quarter and anything below 50 points constituted an F. However, because Dr. Miser used the new system he had to issue grades in increments of four points (4.2 to be exact) in order to include the plus/minus grades. Thus, an A was 96-100 points, an A- was 92-95 points, a B+ was 88-91 points, and so forth. In this class, the range in which students could have scored and maintained their grades was only four points. In addition, the four point increments gave all students except the A students more chances to increase their grades throughout the quarter. The A students could not have increased their grades and had a mere four points in which their scores could have deviated. Any deviation that exceeded four points would have resulted in an A-, or heaven forbid, a B+!

Relative to overall GPA, the plus/minus system has horrific, if not utterly mortifying, consequences for A students. The obvious reduction in grade range combined with that ignominious A- and its 3.7 numerical equivalent is simultaneously insult and injury. Simply stated, the A students do not have the same opportunities as other students to increase their GPA and the A students have decreased chances of maintaining their GPA. I must ask, "Is the difference between an A and an A- that significant that it is worth ruining a perfect GPA?"

Just in case anyone is still reading this article, there are some equitable solutions to this obvious academic travesty. One possibility is to include an A+ grade. The inclusion of an A+ would, at least, compensate for the restricted range of the A grade and make the opportunities for GPA maintenance more equitable among students. Another solution would be to eliminate the A- grade altogether and broaden the A range. Perhaps one of our more altruistic and/or illustrious pedagogues in administration might have other ideas?

In the absence of better ideas (any ideas), the A students now have another academic burden. I am quite certain that all A students would like to express their gratitude to relevant university staff for their obvious concern for and encouragement of academic excellence. As for those A students who, at any time, earned an A-, "tsk, tsk..."

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