For some time the Faculty senate has been debating whether to use a plus/minus grading system. The faculty has offered a range of arguments detailing why the new system would be better than the current system. First, it would give teachers a better way to reflect how well students did in the class. Second, most of the schools that TCU compares itself to use the plus/minus system. Third, it would put more focus on education because a student would be less likely to calculate what he or she needed to pass the class. Lastly, it might also give TCU a better ranking because we would be conforming to what most of the top 20 schools in the nation do.
One key issue the faculty point out, however, is that changing to plus/minus will have little effect on the overall GPA of the school. If this is the case, I don’t see how the new system will achieve what the faculty wants it to. Since the system represents little change in GPA, it would not necessarily give TCU a better ranking.
Richard Rinewalt, the computer science department chairman, also mentioned at the question and answer session on Nov. 1 that your current GPA won’t matter when you get to graduate school since all of those numbers are refigured anyway. Further, any transfer work you may have is entered as a “T” on your transcript, not as the actual grade. Having a uniform grading system doesn’t necessarily help anyone, even if they are transferring to or from a school with plus/minus grading.
Another point to consider under the plus/minus system is it will be harder for a borderline student to make a decent grade because of the greater subdivisions. It’s a known fact that some students do better on certain kinds of tests than others. Most teachers tailor their tests to one or two groups of students, leaving out the third and fourth groups. A student who would normally get an 87 in a class with short essays could end up getting an 81 in a class with multiple choice tests but still get a B under the old system. Under the plus/minus system, that same student no longer has that leeway. If he can’t handle the multiple choice tests and gets an 81 then his GPA drops significantly through no fault of his own. Currently that student has a safety net to maintain his GPA.
Some people argue this student would do better in other classes that suit him and thus the two classes would negate each other. However, there is no guarantee this will happen. Since colleges don’t mandate that teachers give particular tests, there is no way to know what kind of test the average teacher will give. There is also no guarantee the plus/minus system will show who had a better command of the material, just who had better grades.
The new system doesn’t help shift the focus away from grades back to education like it promises and doesn’t ensure students will learn more. Students are still going to cram at the end of the year, trying in a last ditch effort to get a better grade or at least keep the grade they have. The new system only puts more strain on students who are trying to maintain since they have more ranges to be classified in.
Lastly, plus/minus grading makes it harder for students to figure out their grades. For example: A student knows he needs to make a 76 on the final to keep his B. Instead it will be: What do I need to make a B+? With some simple math, that would be an easy question to answer under the old system. With the new system, it’s harder to judge how teachers will curve the final grades just based on letter grades.
The system has too many flaws to be effective. Just because other schools use plus/minus grading doesn’t mean TCU should adopt it as well. What works for other schools might not work for TCU.
I advise the administration to keep the old grading system.
Thomas Guidry is a junior computer information science major.