Academic Senate considers changes in university grading system to increase accuracy

Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown

SDSU’s Academic Senate is discussing the option of switching university grades to a plus-minus system, rather than the current A, B, C, D, F system in an attempt for more accuracy.

“We have created a task force to talk about the grading system,” said Larry Rogers, chair of Academic Senate and professor of education. “The argument being that the plus-minus system is clinically accurate to grades.”

The current system at SDSU does not have a set percentage for what an A must be or what a B must be. Some classes may set an A at 100 to 90 percent, and others may set it at 100 to 92 percent, depending on the instructor.

“The system doesn’t really say where the break is in grades, and there is a very big difference between an A and a B,” Rogers said. “With the new system, there would be a set difference between an A+ and a B+.”

If the new grading system were to be implemented, it would switch the grading scale from a 4.0 to a 4.33 scale.

“I think the normal response from undergrads would be negative because it could potentially lead to lower grades,” Rogers said. “We are doing some research and getting literature on other schools that are our size and use the plus-minus grading system to see how well it works for them.”

Sharon Clay, a member of Academic Senate and professor of plant science, agreed that it could probably have an effect on students’ GPAs.

“I think the students who currently have lower GPAs may come up a little bit, and the A students may end up dropping a little bit,” said Clay. “I question how the students would like it.”Some students agree that they would not want a plus-minus system implemented.

“I would want it to stay the same system because with (a plus-minus system) you would be hit really hard if you mess up just one test or assignment,” said Diana Nuss, a senior biology major.

Others like the plus-minus system, though.

“I’m in favor of the (plus-minus) system because then it would be more accurate,” said Tim Barteness, a freshman agronomy major.

Before making any changes, Academic Senate wants to look at the effects it would have on grade distribution, said Rogers. Some issues would include whether grades increase, stay the same or decrease, as well as the impact and validity of the change.

“Student involvement is something I think we need to remember when talking about grading, because in the end, they’re the ones that are going to have to live with it,” said Clay. “When I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we used the plus-minus system, and it seemed like sometimes students were happy with it and other times students were disappointed.”

Students’ Association senator and finance chair Anthony Sutton said, “Right now it is very much in the informational phase, but we really need to work with the task force that is looking at this and see how this would affect students.”Some students believe that keeping grades up is already a challenge.

“It is hard enough to keep up your GPA. I would be really opposed to a new grading system,” said Cayla Sutlief, a freshman pre-veterinary science major.

“If the changes are negligible, it’s one thing; if they are punitive, then that’s another, and not a desirable result,” said Rogers. “Some of the early results from the literature look on the punitive end.”

The Academic Senate researched Western Kentucky University, at which after five years of using the plus-minus system, the grades decreased more than they increased. WKU used a three-semester pilot program that tested the plus-minus grades, but faculty did not have them appear on student transcripts or affect students’ GPAs.

“If the results are catastrophic and we find that grades would decrease, we would not implement the system,” said Rogers. “One school we looked at had something like 80 percent of grades decrease after using the (plus-minus) system for five years, but others have had successes.”

Heidepriem, who called the cut a “terrible idea,” expects Senate democrats to be nearly unanimous in their opposition. Hunhoff said House Democrats also strongly oppose the proposal.That is good news for SDSU, which currently has 1355 Opportunity Scholars.

Marysz Rames, vice president for student affairs, said the university wants the scholarship to remain fully funded because it helps SDSU recruit the state’s top students.

“Those students have major offers from surrounding states,” she said. “It’s hard to compete without having the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship as part of the package.”

The first Opportunity Scholarships were given to the high school class of 2004, and ever since the program’s start, the ACT scores of SDSU’s freshman classes have steadily risen. In 2003, 38 percent of incoming freshmen had an ACT of at least 24 &- one current requirement to receive the scholarship. In 2009, the number had risen to 47 percent.

Rames said keeping these quality students in state is important, not only for the universities but for the state’s future.

“When you graduate from a state, you are more inclined to work in that state,” she said.

Ben Young, a freshman pharmacy major and an Opportunity Scholar, said he also wants the scholarship to be kept in its entirety because it helped him decide to stay in-state for college.

“I’ve talked to a couple of friends who said if they took away the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship, they would leave,” he said.

If Young does not get the full award amount next year, he will have to reexamine his financial aid package and apply for more scholarships or loans.

“It would take a lot more time to figure out what I would do,” he said. “Right now everything lines up perfectly.”Young has e-mailed all legislators on the issue and about two-thirds responded, he said.

Tidemann, R-Brookings, said he has received several e-mails primarily from students and parents opposing the cut. He encourages all students to contact their legislators, not just those on the appropriations committee, because their voice does matter, he said.

“The fact that students are saying that this is needed is important,” he said.