Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2001

Debate continues on plus-minus grading

August 11, 2001

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Business students at Kansas University, beware: That test score that barely gets your English department colleagues a B grade won't cut it quite as well for you. It just might end up a B-.

Same goes for students in KU's schools of architecture, fine arts, journalism, social welfare, education and law. All use a plus-minus grading system.

That means the 80 percent score that earns a B grade on the rest of campus often ends up a B- in those schools. And the difference shows at the end of the semester: A student who gets an overall grade of B- gets a 2.7 grade point average; a B grade earns a 3.0 GPA.

Critics say the system can hurt a student's ability to hold on to their scholarships and financial aid, or hinder placement in graduate school. Defenders say the system merely offers more precision to the grading system.

"The advantage is it gives an opportunity to make a finer distinction in student performance," said Bill Fuerst, dean of the business school.

The people who give out and receive the grades, though, don't seem to think it's a big deal.

"It doesn't bother me," said Rhea Miller, a graduate social welfare student. "I'd rather get an A- than a B for doing less than A work."

'It's been a pain'

That's the optimistic view. Erin Adamson, a fifth-year senior in journalism, is a bit more pessimistic.

"It's been a pain," she said. "I'm a little worried about how it will look on a transcript."

Adamson also is getting a liberal arts degree, and she hopes the plus/minus grading system isn't eventually adopted there.

"I think somebody who sees a B- in my journalism class will understand," she said. "A B- in Spanish would look pretty slacker."

Fuerst said faculty don't look too much at the "minus" grades in deciding admission to his school's graduate program.

He said, "We'll take a look at their overall GPA, as well as test scores and letters of recommendation. We try to look at the whole package."

At KU's engineering school where precision is a must the plus/minus grading system isn't used.

"I don't think it's been seriously considered by the faculty," said Carl Locke Jr., dean of engineering.

"I think the faculty has been pretty satisfied with the current system."

And there hasn't been an outcry for it, either, from students.

"Sometimes making the decision between A and B is tough enough as it is," Locke said. "Adding pluses and minuses to it would only make it more difficult."

Glenn Rice, a doctoral student in the math department, also works as a teaching assistant. If his school implemented a plus/minus system, it would affect him on two fronts.

"Grading with the A-B-C-D scale, the breakdown is easy," Rice said. "I'd have to break it up a little more, but I don't think it would be difficult."

It might mean, however, more "begging for points."

"For students, it would be a big difficulty, because their GPAs would fall on that," he said. "I'm sure there would be a lot more (begging), and that would make things more difficult."

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