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Editorial: USG must consider student health before recommending grading system change

Issue date: 1/23/09 Section: Opinion
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As it stands, Case Western Reserve University's grading system consists only of simple letter grades. But the majority of colleges and universities in the United States use a plus/minus grading system. USG's Academic Affairs committee is currently considering a resolution that would recommend a change to such a system.

Among 43 institutions, Case Western is one of six that doesn't use a plus/minus grading system, according to a survey done by the Association of American Universities. Another survey conducted by Georgia State University found that 89.8 percent of universities use a plus/minus grading system. The realization that we are part of a minority has sparked worries that we have fallen behind as an institution and are perhaps jeopardizing the credibility of the university.

The committee has looked into the advantages and disadvantages of such a system and seems sold on the concept. Ultimately, of course, the decision lies with the University Undergraduate Faculty and the Faculty Senate. Five years ago, when the faculty initially wanted to make the switch, the protest of the student body was the only factor that kept it from happening. If USG can convince undergraduates that this would be a beneficial change, it will most likely happen.

One clear advantage of a plus/minus grading system is that it better reflects differing levels of student achievement in a class. If you consistently achieve at a B+ level, this is of course a good thing. However, if you're constantly scraping by with a B-, your overall GPA will definitely go down. When the committee applied a plus/minus system to about 1200 grades from across the university, the average undergraduate GPA dropped by about 0.05 to 0.1 point.

Another advantage is that students will be more motivated to keep up with work at the end of the semester, since a small slip could result in a lower GPA. Furthermore, it might give good students an advantage in the graduate school admissions process, since a 4.0 would mean all A's instead of a combination of A's and A-'s.
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