Truman considering plus-minus grading system

The Truman State Undergraduate Council currently is considering a resolution that would implement a plus-minus grading system.
If the Undergraduate Council, which is composed of a faculty representative from each academic department, passes the resolution, it will go to Faculty Senate, and if it passes Faculty Senate, it will be presented to the Board of Governors by the Department of Statistics. The earliest it could go into effect is fall 2015.
Statistics Department Chair Jason Shaw wrote the resolution on behalf of the Department of Statistics. He said a plus-minus grading system would impact student grade point averages by making plus grades worth slightly more GPA points and minus grades worth slightly fewer GPA points. For example, a B+ would be equivalent to a 3.33 GPA, and B- would be equivalent to a 2.67 GPA.
Shaw said he presented the idea to the Department of Statistics during fall 2013.
The resolution was brought to the Undergraduate Council Jan. 16, Council Chair Debra Cartwright said. She said the Council voted on the resolution Feb. 13, but the vote did not reach a quorum, because of the high number of abstentions, which do not count as votes according to the Council’s by-laws.
“Most of the abstentions were people where their faculty  [in their department] were split,” Cartwright said. “They [felt they]  couldn’t vote one way or the other because their faculty were about half and half in terms of for and against.”
Cartwright said the Council will vote again at the March 6 meeting. She said if the Council does not reach a quorum at the next vote, the Council either will vote about the resolution again at the April 10 meeting or the Department of Statistics can send the resolution directly to Faculty Senate. Registrar Margaret Herron said if a plus-minus system is implemented, it likely will affect all students instead of applying only to incoming students because applying it to all students  is the easiest way to program the transcript system. Herron said the system only will affect grades going into a student’s GPA and will not retroactively change GPAs.
There are three advantages to a plus-minus system, Shaw said.
First, one advantage is students might take tests and projects more seriously because it will be easier for them to raise their GPAs than with the traditional grading system, Shaw said. He said one example is a student with an 86.5 percent in a class near the end of the semester. If the student has a final project worth 20 percent of their grade, it is impossible for the student to raise his or her grade to an A, but the student could raise the grade to a B+.
A second advantage is this system distinguishes between students with the same letter grade but different scores, for example, an 89 percent and an 80 percent. Shaw said he considers this an advantage because the student with an 89 percent deserves more distinction than the student with the 80 percent.
The third advantage is a plus-minus grading system provides more distinction to valedictorians. Shaw said with the current grading system, there are sometimes as many as 30 valedictorians in a graduating class.
“What does it mean to be a valedictorian at Truman if there are 30 of them?” Shaw said.
However, Shaw said some people consider it a disadvantage that some students who have a 4.0 GPA with the current system would not have a 4.0 GPA with a plus-minus system.
Shaw said he is not concerned about this because many other universities, including the University of Missouri-Columbia, Missouri State University and Washington University in St. Louis, use a plus-minus grading system.
“If somebody is not a 4.0 student at another institution, why should they be a 4.0 here?” Shaw said.
Shaw said he does not foresee any other adverse effects, such as making it more challenging for students to keep scholarships or putting more stress on the student body.
Cartwright said a disadvantage to a plus-minus system is there might be a lower retention and graduation rates of academic programs where students need a certain GPA to graduate, such as nursing, communication disorders and business.
She said another disadvantage is courses in which students receive a C- might not transfer as credit to other universities where a 2.0 is required.
Shaw said while a plus-minus system will affect GPAs, the students’ overall GPAs should remain about the same.