Essay about Pros and Cons of Using a Plus-Minus Grading System

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Student and Faculty Views of Plus-Minus Grading Systems
Working Paper Series—07-11 | December 2007

Jim Morgan
(928) 523-7385

Gary Tallman Robert Williams

All professors at:

Northern Arizona University The W. A. Franke College of Business
PO Box 15066 Flagstaff, AZ 86011.5066

Student and Faculty Views of Plus-Minus Grading Systems
Introduction Many colleges and universities have adopted or are considering adopting a grading system that provides a larger number of marking choices than the A through F whole-letter system. This usually takes the form of a plus-minus (+/-) grading system in one version or another. While a variety of reasons have been put forth for the move to +/- grades, a key motivation
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The single intermediate grade is typically listed either as the concatenation of the two grades it lies between, such as AB for the grade between an A and a B, or as a plus without a corresponding minus. In these systems the grade points awarded for the intermediate grade are half way between the two related whole-letter grades (a 3.5 for an AB or a B+). Why the Movement to +/- Grading? The proportion of institutions using +/- grading systems increased by 12 percent from 1982 to 1992 [Riley, Checca, Singer, & Worthington, 1994] with the trend continuing. There are three reasons typically cited as motivation for universities to change to a +/- grading system. They are concerns over grade inflation, ability to differentiate between students and ability to motivate students to aspire to learn more. A substantial body of literature details the existence of grade inflation in American colleges and universities. One study [Levine, 1994] surveyed 4,900 college graduates from 1969 to 1993 and found that the number of A’s awarded had quadrupled and the number of C’s had dropped by two thirds.