While some people were wishing for their two front teeth this Christmas, all I wanted was my 4.0. When the grades came in last Winter Break, however, I was less than ecstatic with the results. A couple of A's had dropped my GPA and ended my short-lived life as a 4.0 student. From that moment on, I became increasingly interested in the plus-minus grading system employed by some professors at CSU.
From several interviews with Associated Students of CSU members and professors from the Faculty Council, I came to realize that the plus-minus system is practical in theory; however, it needs to undergo certain reforms to tweak out its imperfections.
According to the chair of Faculty Council, Robert Jones, a commonly cited appeal of the plus-minus system is its ability to "differentiate and stratify varying levels within a grade." This grade stratification is what I would attribute as being the system's most practical aspect.
Admittedly, there are differences between plus and minus students. Therefore, it seems fair to suggest that students in each echelon should be rewarded according to their received grade percentage.
At its surface, the plus-minus system seems to reward stronger students, but a closer look will reveal the complete opposite. When asked to identify the students that obtained the most benefits from the plus-minus system, Jones responded, "B+, C+ and D+ students benefit. The converse is that the A+ and A- students don't reap the benefits from it."
Another member of Faculty Council, Tim Gallagher, affirmed this point, stating that the system ultimately "hurts the better students." Gallagher explained that one of the primary flaws within the system lies in its lack of symmetry within the A scale. For example, a B- equates to a 2.67, a B to 3.0 and a B+ to 3.33. In contrast, the A-scale lacks comparable symmetry with an A- equaling 3.67, and both an A and A+ equaling 4.0.
As I understand it, in order for the A-scale to have the equal symmetry enjoyed by B, C, and D-scales, a higher value would have to be awarded to an A+. According to Gallagher, though, many oppose this solution because it would upset the traditional grading scale used.
Another problem with the plus-minus system is that it is inconsistently applied. Professors are given the option of using whichever grading scale system they prefer. Therefore, one will find professors within the same department using the plus-minus system, while others do not.
This complicates matters when different professors, using different grading scales, are assigned to teach different sections of the same course. Hypothetically, if two students in the different sections each receive an 81 percent, one student's GPA would be a 3.0, while the other's would be significantly lower at 2.67.
Furthermore, many departments have GPA minimum requirements set for students majoring in a particular field. Again, the consistency deficit may lead to problems in this regard as well. Let's add this stipulation to our latter example. If the same two students in different sections need a 3.0 to meet a department's minimum GPA requirement, one will earn a degree and the other will not – even though both students obtained the same percentage within the same course.
Faculty Council is well aware of the flaws within the plus-minus system and has appointed the University Curriculum Committee to investigate ways to reform it. Students are encouraged to contact their ASCSU representative in the committee with any opinions they might have regarding the plus-minus system.
Hopefully, reform is in store for the near future, because I would hate to leave college with tales of how a certain Grinch stole my 4.0.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a junior double majoring in political science and philosophy. Her columns run every Wednesday in the Collegian. Luci would like to extend a special thank you to ASCSU students Megan Hart and Courtney Healy, as well as Jones and Gallagher for their insight and cooperation.