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Following the implementation of a plus-minus grading scale for the graduate college in 2009, Radford University undergraduate courses have moved to implement the change as an optional selection for faculty teaching courses.
With some faculty worried that the system, which adds a buffer area on a given grade (instead of just a ‘C’ worth 2.0, for example, a C+ would be worth 2.3 points and a C- would be worth 1.7) would negatively impact student grades, staff that researched the change found that primarily, these pluses and minuses cancel one another out almost entirely, with the exception of the A: there is no A+, only an A- (worth 3.7 points.)
The system was intended to be optional for professors, but many are hesitant to abandon methods they have become used to, and that they have come to trust. There are, however, some pluses to the plus-minus grading scale, as a physics professor outlined:
“Imagine the following situation: it is nearing the end of the semester and a student has an 85 in the class. In the prior grading system, this student could be basically locked into a B grade, which may have the undesired result of demotivating the student. With the +/- system in plus, the student is encouraged to keep working, because she can either more her grade up to a B+ or slip down to a B-.”
Of course, this raises the question: should we students be working only to stop ourselves from being punished? Do we work only for grades and our eventual graduation, or, as Howard Thurman would say, should we study what makes us come alive? However, this is something professors, including our source (who accepts the change,) have already considered:
“The ideal student should not be grade motivated. Instead, students should be focused on gaining knowledge and understanding as their primary motivation, not some numbered score,” the physics professor says.
Many students and faculty are resistant to the change, however.
“If you’re going to make a change like this, make it all or nothing,” sophomore communications major Erin said. “It can be confusing, because some students will have the point system and some won’t.”
This idea raises concerns of stressed students going only for teachers who do not implement the change, so that they get an A or B where another teacher practices the new plus-minus system.
While the referendum results of decreased student grades are yet to be seen, the system may increase grade appeals: students objecting his/her given grade in a class. Students are already stressed about performing well. Students might just be combing through potential classes for next semester to see which teachers will have flexibility although students have certainly done more ridiculous things to be sure that their grade turns out well.
Since the implementation for undergrad students began this summer, there is little evidence to measure results of the change. As for whether these new grading scale changes will be a plus or a minus for the undergrads: only time will tell.