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Plus/minus grading system has negative effect for students

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BY LÓRIEN MACENULTY

Peeking at their transcripts, students observed the effects of Drake University’s first semester under the recently implemented plus/minus grading system.

The average GPA of Drake student in 2016 fell from 3.25 in the spring to 3.22 in the fall, according to statistics compiled by the Office of Student Records.

Drake University switched from the traditional system of whole-letter grades in August last year. However, the power of the plus/minus implementation lay on the instructors of each course. Individual departments and schools, for consistency and equity, responded according to the needs of their students.

Responses from faculty and students were positive and negative.

“I’m really not happy with my A- grade, because my score was 91 percent, supposedly an A,” senior Chu Jie Siaw said. “It did affect my GPA. But I think it’s a good thing for a student if they really want to motivate themselves to study and put more effort in the class.”

Of the approximately 22,000 grades assigned last semester, only 25 percent had an associated plus or minus sign; 12 percent plus and 13 percent minus, according to the Office of Student Records. While the average GPA lowered, only a fourth of that deviation may be attributed to the adoption of the plus/minus system.

“The biggest benefit from a faculty perspective has been the differentiation,” said Kelly Bruhn, associate dean in the school of journalism and mass communication. “We were able to more accurately assess students during midterms to tell them that a B+ is very different from a B-. It enabled us to really have more direct conversations with them about what their success could look like in the class and how much work needed to be done.”

Other benefits, according to Bruhn, include the inflated size of the Dean’s List in the School of Journalism, which holds more names of students with a 3.50- 3.99 GPA than in the past. The University Dean’s list held 981 names in Fall 2015, and now holds 1,184.

In an apparent confirmation of this distaste, straight-A students experienced the sharpest effects.

Across the most recent three semesters, the President’s List, which advertises students with a 4.0 GPA, fell from 639 in fall 2015 and 635 in spring 2016 to 380 names in fall 2016.

“I’ve noticed that usually when I get an A in the class, it’s a 90-91 percent,” senior Michael McAllister said. “So now that’s an A-, and I don’t feel like I am getting fully rewarded for getting essentially 90 percent of the points correct. I wish that they either did have the A+ to reward when students do get that plus, or if it was just A, and they started at B+. That would be another acceptable way to do it, in my opinion.”

The School of Journalism, like other colleges, gives its instructors the choice to offer an A+ in their courses, said Bruhn.

“I think it made sense to move to the plus/minus system, but there are definitely some revisions, I think (that) need to be made in order for it to be really fair,” McAllister said.

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