Students debate plus/minus grading system with faculty

Lindsey Reed

An outline of the potential benefits of a new grading system may or may not have been enough to convince some students that a change is needed.

The Student Government Association held a forum on Thursday to allow students to discuss the possibility of a new plus/minus grading system.

SGA President John Bradley said the crowd of about 40 students was the largest turnout for an SGA forum in two years.

Economics professor Brian Strow, who first brought up the idea, said he will officially propose the plus/minus grading system at this Thursday’s University Senate meeting.

“I’m an educator – my goal and the goal of any university is to try to get students to learn stuff,” Strow said during the forum.

Strow said assigning final grades in the current grading system is stressful. Professors cannot always give the best representation of how well a student did because students on the high and low ends of a grade letter both get the same GPA, he said.

In the current 5-tier system, students get a 3.0 for making a B, even if they were possibly one point away from making an A, Strow said. The plus/minus system would allow a student with a B plus grade to receive a 3.3 GPA.

Strow said the new grading system would also be beneficial because it would identify and reward the students who worked the hardest.

“If you’re really the highest, you want to be known as the highest,” he said.

While the new system would reward some students, others are concerned that the top students would be hurt the most.

In the plus/minus system, there would be no extra credit given for an A-plus grade, but students with an A-minus would receive a 3.7 GPA.

Adairville junior John Law, an SGA member, said it would be better if students were able to receive a 4.3 for an A-plus grade in order to balance out a possible A-minus grade so that a student could maintain a 4.0 GPA.

“If you’re trying to shoot for fairness here, there needs to be some difference between an A and an A-plus because if you don’t, then the whole system is biased,” Law said.

Strow said the only way the plus/minus grading system could hurt the top students is if those students received a 4.0 from the current minimal requirement.

“If that’s how you got your 4.0, then you might lose your 4.0 if you’re the 90 percent student,” he said.

Students worried about their GPA could make adjustments to their work efforts to maintain their current average, Strow said.

“Just shoot the goal a little higher, but you know that going into the class,” he said. “You know in the beginning what you’d need to get.”

Bradley said one of his main concerns is the fact that most majors require students to have a 2.0 GPA in their major coursework to graduate.

Patti Johnson, SGA executive vice president, said she opposes a new grading system because she sees the pressures the plus/minus system has put on her sister, who attends Centre College in Danville.

Johnson said she doesn’t think Western students are ready for such pressures.

“If I did want to deal with that, I’d be at Harvard or Vanderbilt right now,” she said.

Johnson also said the effects of a plus/minus grading system could vary among different majors.

Strow said the ultimate measure of how effective the plus/minus grading system would be is to determine if students are learning more as a result of the policy.

“If they can learn more, I’m going to find that a good policy,” Strow said.

Senate chair Doug Smith said that after Strow makes his motion, it would take two readings at a full senate meeting for the motion to be able to pass.

If the motion is passed, the proposal would be sent to Provost Barbara Burch for final approval.

Reach Lindsey Reed at [email protected]