Dig Baton Rouge

Plus and Minus

By Colleen King

As the new school year starts, everyone on campus is swept up in the prospect of new beginnings. While university life in its most pure form is about learning, LSU – like any other college – is also about the policies that ensure continued progress. The thing everyone is buzzing about this fall is the new plus minus grading system and what it will mean for students going forward. This new system encourages more variation within each letter grade than the old system. While many look at the addition of plus and minus to grades as a natural way to differentiate better between students who perform at different levels, there is concern and some confusion as to what the consequences will be for all at LSU, including instructors. The dirt is in the details, and it all seems to come down to the almighty grade point average.

Until this semester, LSU utilized a traditional grading system that assigned GPA using the traditional four-point system. In this traditional grade scale, a student who gets a 99 and one who gets an 89.5 receive the same number of grade points: 4.0.

The plus minus system offers more options for instructors, and many argue incentivizes better performance in students by creating more goal-posts for them to strive for.

There has been a mixed reaction from LSU students and faculty so far. When the proposal was announced earlier this year, the student senate released a statement saying they officially opposed the change. DIG talked to Student Body President Andrew Mahtook about how the student government feels now that the new grade system is officially in use.

“We still hold same position,” he said. “We have released four resolutions going back over the years and our stance hasn’t changed. We are still opposed to plus/minus. It’s one of those things that we don’t think is best for students and for overall student success, but we realize that it’s here to stay and there is no point not to adapt.”

While Mahtook praised the University Provost for keeping people informed about the changes taking place, he expressed concern for those future graduates applying to graduate schools, law schools, and medical schools. While the plus minus system’s potential negative impact on GPA has not been proven in statistical research thus far, students with borderline grades still feel their overall evaluation is at risk. In an increasingly competitive world, the difference of even 0.3 grade points can make or break an application.

Dr. Don Chance is a Professor of Finance at LSU, and he originally proposed the switch to plus minus. When asked why, Chance responded, “I taught at another school using this system for 20 years and felt it was a better system. The best universities, they use the plus minus system.” Chance said that 95% of the “best” colleges started using plus minus, some as early in the 1970s and 80s. Chance also made the interesting point that people use plus and minus all the time conversationally. If someone performs really well on, say, the football field, we call that an A+ performance. Chance says we intuitively grasp the difference between an A+ and an A- performance. “We need those kinds of variations” in the university system. Chance thinks, if executed correctly, that this transition to a more varied and prestigious grade system will help LSU become more like the schools we want to emulate. Some adjustments were made to his original proposal, however, which is of concern. As Chance proposed it, the system would have no 4.3 GPA for A+ grades, and the current standards would not be elevated. On LSU.edu, an example has the numerical grade 80 listed as a B-, which is equal to 2.7, not 3 grade points. This, Chance says, is something he warned the committee against. “The plus minus system should be situated the same way as the old system,” meaning the numerical grades should still carry at least the same weight. This could be crucial for students perform on the borderlines. In the new system, a C- is equal to only 1.7 GPA, less than the 2.0 required for good standing.

Getting everyone on the same page with the plus minus grades will take time. Dr. Don Chance says that how each individual instructor grades performance is still up to them. “Teachers can put the cutoffs where they want to put the cutoffs.” Students and teachers will inevitably adapt over time, but how the new grading will affect student performance is still up for grabs. Student Body President Andrew Mahtook says the student government always “puts our faith in the administration.” Once the dust has settled over the initial debate, LSU will hopefully have a more complete picture of how it should evaluate students.

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