A year later, plus/minus still debated

Dana Rader

During the 2005 academic year, Kent State students and faculty have seen the ups and downs of the plus and minus system after its first year of implementation.

“The people who get plusses get more excited by it. The people who tend toward the minuses are less excited,” said Ken Bindas, history professor at Trumbull campus.

Bindas said he thinks the plus/minus system better serves students because there is a vast difference between a C+ and a C- student.

“It’s more fair for the students, and I think it also gives them more control over their grade,” he said.

Senior sociology major Andrea Larson said the plus/minus grading system has put a little more strain on her to get better grades.

“I think it made me work harder because a B+ is obviously a lot more effective than a B,” she said. “And I couldn’t get a C- – I had to get a C.”

Larson said she assumes Kent State changed the grading scale so it could be more comparable to other universities.

“It only makes us look better,” she said. “Instead of ‘Can’t read, can’t write, Kent State’ – you know, that reputation we all get.”

Psychology professor Tom Dowd served as chair for the Faculty Senate when the proposal for the new grading system went through. He said Kent State was a minority before it implemented the plus/minus grading system because most universities nationwide had already started using it.

Dowd, who taught Psychology of Adjustment last semester, said he voted for the new system and used it for his course. He said grade inflation has made it necessary for this “finer distinction” in grading.

“It used to be a C was really an average grade, and it really was,” he said. “Well, if you think of averages as statistical norms, no way – a B is an average grade now.”

Dowd said he thinks the plusses and minuses throughout a college student’s career will eventually balance out.

Therefore, he suspects the grading system will not have an effect on the overall average grade point average at Kent State. Rather, it will be a more precise indication of how well a student did in a specific course.

The plus/minus grading system was implemented as optional for faculty members. Each professor has the academic freedom to choose whether or not they want to use it.

Dowd said he doesn’t think the proposal would have passed if it would have been mandatory.

Pamela Grimm, assistant professor of marketing, is one professor who chose not to use plus/minus grading last semester.

Grimm was on Faculty Senate at the time the issue was being debated and said she voted against it. Grimm said she was originally in favor of the new system because she thought it would “halt” grade inflation.

There were two factors that changed her mind.

“First, data was presented which showed pretty clearly that plus/minus grading doesn’t address grade inflation at all,” Grimm said. “Second, a very compelling e-mail was sent to the senate listserv from another senator. This senator made the argument that further specifying grades to plus/minus implied an ability to judge with a level of precision that simply doesn’t apply in most grading situations.”

Although the grading system gives faculty the opportunity to separate the high B’s from the “barely B’s,” Grimm also believes it gives an artificial sense of accuracy.

She said the emphasis needs to be on how much a student learns, rather than the grade assigned.

“We assume there is some relationship between the two, but it is not a perfect relationship,” Grimm said.

She said scholarships and other forms of aid are already too dependent on GPA and this added pressure may tempt students to cheat.

“I wish something could be done to change the situation so students can go back to focusing on learning,” Grimm said. “Once students leave academia, no one gives a damn about their GPA, but what they’ve learned. Their ability to learn new things is very important to their future success.”

Contact academic affairs reporter Dana Rader at [email protected].