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The Pluses and Minuses of a New Grading System

by Sabrina Okeson

One semester after Bemidji State University implemented the plus-minus grading scale, concerned students and faculty have spoken up in hopes of repealing the new system.

In April 2016, the BSU Student Senate issued a survey about whether to issue the change. 55 percent of the 200 surveyed students responded in favor of the bill to enact the plus-minus scale, while 45 percent said they were against the change.

Student Senate Chair of Academic Affairs Avery Franzen is not only skeptical because of such a small sample size, but also because of the close split in numbers. He said the data is unreliable, and there are no specifics on the demographics of those surveyed. The bill passed by an 18-3 vote at a Spring 2016 Student Senate meeting and went into effect this fall.

According to the Northern Arizona University College of Business, 57.5 percent of public universities use the plus-minus scale.

“The purpose is to help students who are at or around an 81 percent to set more realistic goals,” said Franzen. “It’s easier to get from a B- to a B then it is to go from an 81 percent to a 90 percent to get an A in the class.”

After a semester with the new system in place, the reaction among BSU students has largely been negative. The choice whether to use the plus-minus scale in the hands of the professors. Prior to each class, the professor decides which grading scale the class will use.

“This semester is the first time I am using it,” said Debra Sea, BSU assistant professor of integrated media. “Last semester my students voted and they all voted to use the old scale. I decided to try it this semester because when I look at one of my classes, Video Editing, there is a large difference in quality of work from an 89 percent (B+) to a 79% (B-), but the grade of a B did not reflect the work at either end of the spectrum. So, I am going to try the plus-minus. I think it will be an incentive for students to put in more effort than the old way.”

When this system is initiated into universities, the overall grade point average (GPA) of the student body tends to decrease. For example, if a student has earned As in 80 percent of their courses and Bs in the other 20 percent, they would have a GPA of 3.8. That allows the student to only be able to raise 20 percent of his or her grades, while the other 80 percent are left to stay the same or even lower the grades they get.

The plus-minus grading scale makes it harder to raise his or her GPA because only 20 percent of his or her grades can be improved.

Franzen and other Student Senate members are tabling this week at Lakeside Food Court on BSU’s campus. During this time, students will be given a chance to retake this survey along with any other feedback they feel that the university would like to hear. Franzen said, “Now that the system is in place, a lot of faculty and students are complaining about how they dislike it so Student Senate is working to repeal it.”

BSU senior Morgan Opp said the sudden change is unfair to students used to the old grading method.

“It’s really unfortunate that during my last year they decide to change the grading scale,” Opp said. “We should have had the option to be grandfathered in (to use the old scale), or they should have just started it with incoming freshmen.”

Franzen expects an overwhelming survey response to repeal the plus-minus scale from students who have now gone through a semester of this system. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the results were about 70 percent in favor of repealing it while around 30 percent will want to keep it because of a positive experience with the new grading system.

“I would not feel comfortable repealing the plus-minus grading scale if the results are many less than 60 percent in favor of repealing it,” he said.

The results of the survey will have to be looked over and Student Senate is hoping to have to results ready and have a decision made within the next two months.

Freshman, Brooke Mimmack said, “I don’t like (the plus-minus scale). People work hard to get certain grades. I believe an A is an A. It shouldn’t be worth more because it’s a higher percent or less because it’s a lower one.”