Grades gain weight: plus-sizes actually good


    You are a number.You are your Social Security number. You are your credit score. You are your student ID number and your SAT score.

    No number can truly define a person, but in a society obsessed with quantifying every possible facet of our lives, all that many will know about you is found in a mathematical snapshot.

    This is a fact of life, so the best we can hope for is a formula that makes us a little more photogenic.

    For this reason, the university is considering a plan to create a stratified GPA system based on plus and minus grades.

    Instead of getting a 4.0 for any A and a 3.0 for any B, the new system would allow for a more accurate calculation of the GPA. An A student would still get a 4.0, but an A-minus student would receive a 3.67. The points awarded would decrease from B-plus to F in the same fashion.

    I am not a fan of grades. The mere knowledge that what I am doing will be graded eliminates my motivation. As such, I have many classes where I have gotten that 3.0 or 4.0 for my GPA by one point.

    Faculty Senate Chairman Andrew Fort put it best when he said, “The current system rewards minus students and penalizes the plus students.”

    I am usually a minus student, the worst of the best. I probably won’t be affected by this plan as a senior, but those who follow in my overachieving-slacker footsteps will face a great challenge.

    I opposed the plan at first. The proposed grade system would be great for a quantitative subject like math, but for classes based solely on subjectively graded papers, the plus/minus system would only encourage grade inflation.

    Begging a professor for an A when you are sitting firmly at a B is difficult. Begging for those few extra points, the B-plus, seems to be a far less arduous task. Professors are human. Most have hearts – the rest have their price.

    Corruption and graft aside, a trip to the religion department to interview Academic Excellence Committee Chairman David Grant cleansed me of my uninformed beliefs.

    “(The studies) suggest the effect plus/minus grading has on grade inflation is pretty neutral,” Grant said. “If anything, it has a slight negative effect on grade inflation.”

    Grant, using a grade sheet from a previous semester, broke down the grades given under the current system in his own introductory religion courses and then showed the same class with plus and minus grades.

    The class GPA under the current system was 2.43, while the new system would have yielded a 2.41.

    When I think of subjective, I think of religion and philosophy. I was looking at an example, that destroyed my opposition to the system. Not only was there very little change in the overall grade, but also it meant the person with the 79.5 didn’t get the same grade as the one with an 88.

    “The question to ask about the plus/minus grading system is not about grade inflation,” Grant said. “The question is, will it better discriminate levels of student achievement?”

    With my first objection effectively dead, Grant mentioned student GPAs on the whole might decline slightly under a plus/minus system. My opposition was renewed.

    At a school where tuition has increased significantly in my short attendance, a decline in GPAs on the whole would likely hurt students that need a 3.0 to maintain their financial aid.

    “The concern is that students with a 3.0 may not have that grade due to some C-minuses,” Grant said. “You have to remember that the C’s have pluses as well.”

    When I see someone get a C, it is usually a 78. These people would take more than a 3.0 for their grade point average if this fell into C-plus territory. They would improve their chances of keeping their scholarship. The C-minus students might have to worry.

    Suddenly, I am taken back to my philosophy classes.

    Semester after semester I got B-pluses on my papers. Try as I might, I could never get higher. Once or twice I got lower, but higher grades never came.

    Every B went in as a 3.0. All of my papers could have gotten me a 3.33 average in philosophy classes with the plus/minus system. My GPA would be higher.

    If I wasn’t totally sold at this point, the fact that plus/minus systems are becoming the standard finished the job.

    All but eight of the top 50 universities in this country use a plus/minus system, according to Faculty Senate research documents.

    Grant said, and I whole-heartedly agree, that it is important for TCU to stay current. If the top 50 schools have seen a benefit in improving the means of measuring student achievement, then we need to do the same if we aspire to join their ranks.

    The best course for one university may not be the same as that of another. The evidence on this issue, however, shows plus/minus grading to be right for TCU.

    Opinion Editor Brian Chatman is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Fort Worth.