Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

UTSA to switch to Plus/Minus Grading System in Fall 2011

UTSA will be implementing a plus/minus grading system by Fall 2011 for both Graduate and Undergraduate programs. There is still some debate over the finer details of the policy; nevertheless, the proposal has been approved by the Faculty Senate and the Provost Office, and is currently awaiting implementation by the Office of Registrar and OIT.  With this new optional grading policy, students will no longer be blanketed into grades but will be more precisely placed into a plus or minus category.  Currently a 4.0 is an A, 3.0 is a B, 2.0 is a C and 1.0 or below is an F.  Under the new grading policy, instructors will now have the option to further classify students by using 3.67 as an A-, 3.33 as a B+, 2.67 as B-, 2.33 as a C+, 1.67 as a C-, 1.33 as a D+ and .67 as a D-.

Under the current grading system, there is no distinction between a student that earns a B and a student that earns a B+; they both receive a 3.0 on their transcripts.  To make the distinction between those grades, the plus/minus grading system was first introduced to the Faculty Senate in 2006, but after two surveys of faculty members, the proposal was rejected due to a split interest in the subject, so UTSA continued with the A, B, C, D, F grading.  On May 11, 2010, however, Faculty Senate member and Chair of the Academic Policy and Requirements committee, Dr. Bennie Wilson III, reintroduced the proposal of a plus minus grading system to the Faculty Senate, and the rejuvenated proposal passed in the Faculty Senate 15 to 9 in favor and has since been signed by the Provost.

“The main motivation of this whole system is to be more focused on how we grade students,” Wilson said.  “Under an A, B, C, D, F system, two students can have almost a 10% difference in their grades [and still] get the same grade.”

With the realization that there is more to gain from hard work in courses, faculty and administration feel students are less likely to become complacent in their studies and will work to earn the higher grade.  Dr. Wilson explained the importance of students not becoming satisfied with the average.

“I call it settling for mediocrity,” Wilson said.  “The idea is that [the plus/minus system] will probably help some students who say, I’m not doing any more, this is enough.  This wouldn’t happen as much.  For example, under the plus/minus system, I may be making a C+, but if I work just a little bit harder, I could be making a B-.”

Controversy arises, however, towards the lower end of the grade spectrum near the C-, C range.  Although the proposal has been approved, the Faculty Senate is still questioning the passing prerequisite grade of a 2.0 when under the plus/minus system a C- equals 1.67.  The approved proposal of the plus/minus system states that courses with a prerequisite grade of C or higher will default to a C-.  Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. John Frederick, says the shift down is an obvious decision.

“The question is does [a C] devolve to a C-, and I would argue that it does simply because right now a student could earn the equivalent of 70% ina class,” Frederick said.  “Right now it would be called a C, and you would accept that as meeting the prerequisite.  So if we all of sudden change our label for what 70% is to C-, why would that not still meet the prerequisite?”

Although the grey area for lower end grades is continuing to cause question, the addition of the plus/minus system will greatly alleviate the burden of assigning a grade for borderline students.

“As a faculty member sometimes I have a very hard decision to make,” Dr. Lawrence Williams, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Studies, said.  “You have to cut off the grades at a certain point.  There may be two students close together [numerically], but one gets a B and the other gets a C.”

The option of pluses and minuses will allow instructors to differentiate better between two students.  Soon the high C student can be assigned a B-; however, this system has raised the issue that borderline students will seek out instructors that do not use pluses and minuses in their grading.  Dr. Bennie Wilson doesn’t see this as a problem.

“Students shop for instructors right now,” Wilson said, explaining that there is no standard to grading between professors, so optional use of pluses and minuses will have little effect. 

“I may have my class give an oral presentation, and I will count that grade for maybe 10% of the total.  Another instructor may give an oral presentation and count it as 50% of the total, so grades are already different.  There is no such thing as consistency between faculty members.”

Although, the grading policy is generally based on an individual instructor’s prerogative, department heads may be discussing their own departmental policies for using the plus/minus system, but talk about those policies have not yet been voiced in the Faculty Senate meetings, which is where the addendums must go to be approved.

With the lack of an A+ in the system, it is expected that overall GPA will drop slightly as more A students become A- students.  Despite the minor deflation of grades, administrators are confident that the effects will be miniscule.

“I don’t think that you’re going to see a large change in GPA on campus because of this,” Frederick Said; “however, I think that we’re probably going to have a broader campus based conversation about our academic standards, as we go through this academic year.  What it means to get an A, what does it mean to get a C because I don’t think that conversation has occurred here in a while.  I think it would be a good thing for the campus to think more deeply about those kinds of subjects.”

The minor shifting in the GPA of a student prompts the question, what does it matter to future degree holders?  Rachel Espinoza, Assistant Director/Employer Relations at the University Career Center says GPA is one of many elements employers are looking for when considering a resume’.

“There are many employers that have GPA requirements,” Espinoza said.  “They’ll usually be very specific whether they would want it in your major, or they want an overall.”

A student that graduates on the lower end of the plus/minus spectrum need not fear, according to Espinoza.  “What [students] want to do is make sure they are very strong with their interviewing skills and the way they present themselves. There’ve been employers that have told me that if the student presents themselves well and their very impressive [the employer] can overlook [GPA].”

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