Although many students have expressed mixed feelings about the new plus/minus grading system, research shows its implementation had little effect on students’ average GPAs.
Cathy Coghlan, assistant director of institutional research, said the average GPA from 2006 freshmen without the plus/minus system was 2.87, and the first-year average of the fall 2007 class with the plus/minus system was 2.94.
“Both of these numbers round to 2.9 so the difference is negligible,” Coghlan said. “It is really way too early to attribute any change in the GPA or distribution of the GPA to the new grading system.”
Coghlan said in order to attribute average GPAs changing to the new grading system, researchers would need to know which professors use the new grading system and look at the GPAs of students who took classes before and after the policy change.
However, Pat Miller, registrar and director of enrollment management, said there is no way of knowing how many teachers are using the plus/minus system.
Research shows that though GPA averages for fall classes has not revealed significant changes, the standard deviation, a measurement of the variation in distribution, has lowered slightly.
In the fall of 2006 the standard deviation of student GPAs was .83, as compared with .78 in fall 2007. That means the distribution of grades is more compact with the plus/minus system, with fewer extreme high and low grades and more near the average.
Van Jones, assistant director of the center for business and economic forecasting, said the data show the new system seems to be improving the distribution of grades, which is what the grading system was supposed to do.
“GPA averages seem to be improving, but there is not enough data to say that it is a trend that will continue, or that it is a trend that is meaningful,” Jones said. “But the data shown so far show that the grade point averages are moving up slightly.”
Coghlan said another possible explanation for the lower standard deviation is the fact that there was a slightly larger population than last year.
The biggest concern students had on campus before the system was implemented was that their GPA would be affected by the new grading system, said David Grant, who was the chair of the Academic Excellence Committee when the plus/minus system was implemented.
“The faculty has the right to set up their own grading standards, but we just wanted the plus/minus system to be available for them,” said, chair of the religion department.
Grant said whether a teacher chooses to use the plus/minus system is his or her own prerogative.
John Breyer, professor of geology, said by talking to different professors around campus, he noticed that the plus/minus system is all over the place. Some professors chose to implement the new system and some did not, he said.
Breyer said he chose to use the plus/minus system because he thinks it is a fair system. Students who make a low 81 should get a B- and if they get an 89 they should get a B+, he said.
Breyer said there is quite a difference in an 81 and 89, and that should be reflected in students’ grades.
“The plus/minus system shows different degrees of performance and that’s what grades are supposed to do,” Breyer said. He said once students get used to the system they will enjoy it.
Madyson Chavez, a sophomore political science major, said she likes the plus/minus system when it helps her out but realizes that the new system allocates a student’s credit more accurately.
David Bedford, professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies, said he has to use the plus/minus system because he teaches multi-section classes and the common syllabus in the department uses this system. If he had the choice he would not use the plus/minus system because what the system takes away, it can hand right back, he said.
Allison Jones, a freshman fashion merchandising major, said she is still indecisive about the implementation of the plus/minus system.
Jones said she likes the idea of getting the grade she deserves, but before the implementation she would have gotten the same grade as someone who got an 80 when she had worked harder for her 89.
The new system is applicable only for undergraduate, graduate and transfer students who enrolled before fall of 2007.