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DOCUMENTS OF THE GENERAL FACULTY

MOTION FROM THE EDUCATIONAL POLICY COMMITTEE ON PLUS/MINUS GRADING

On behalf of the Educational Policy Committee, Professor David Hillis (integrative biology and committee chair) submitted the following motion concerning plus/minus grading. The secretary has classified this proposal as general legislation. The proposal will be presented to the Faculty Council at its next meeting on April 16, 2007.

Greninger Signature
Sue Alexander Greninger, Secretary
The Faculty Council and General Faculty


Distributed through the Faculty Council web site (www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/) April 10, 2007. Copies are available on request from the Office of the General Faculty, WMB 2.102, F9500.

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MOTION FROM THE EDUCATIONAL POLICY COMMITTEE ON PLUS/MINUS GRADING

Motion

The Educational Policy Committee proposes that the Faculty Council adopt the following motion:

The Faculty Council recommends that the plus/minus grading system currently used for graduate courses be extended to undergraduate courses.

Background and Rationale

The plus/minus grading system currently used for graduate courses:
“Plus/Minus Grading System for Graduate Courses

Graduate faculty may use the plus/minus grading system.  Plus/minus grades are recorded only for graduate courses taken by graduate students.  Faculty are not required to use this system, but many do. The following information describes how to calculate the grade point average (GPA) using the plus/minus grading system.

Letter Grades with Decimal Equivalents

A (4.00)
A- (3.67)
B+ (3.33)
B (3.00)
B- (2.67)
C+ (2.33)
C (2.00)
C- (1.67)
D+ (1.33)
D (1.00)
D- (.67)
F (0.00)

The GPA is calculated by dividing the number of hours taken into the number of grade points received. For example, a student who makes an "A" in ARH 396L and a "B" in ECO 382L earns 12 grade points for the "A" and 9 grade points for the "B". Adding those points together and dividing by the total number of semester hours (21 points divided by six hours) results in a GPA of 3.5. “


The issue of plus/minus grading has a long history at the University of Texas. Several past faculty and student studies and surveys have supported the use of plus/minus grading, and the Faculty Council passed a previous motion to allow the use of pluses and minuses in 1979. This previous faculty motion did not receive the support of the University of Texas administration, and was never implemented. Since this and other aborted efforts, plus/minus grading has been implemented for graduate-level courses without difficulty. With the new administration’s emphasis on undergraduate teaching and reform, it is now an appropriate time to re-consider the issue and re-open the discussion.

Proponents of plus/minus grading point to several advantages of the system. Among these are:

1. Plus/minus grading allows for more accurate representation of students’ performance.
2. Plus/minus grading makes it easier to assign grades in borderline cases. The existing system is seen by many faculty and students as too discontinuous.
3. Plus/minus grading may be used to reduce grade inflation.


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4. All 11 of our peer institutions (the group of large public universities that UT uses for comparison purposes) use some form of plus/minus grading. Most (8 of 11; UC-Berkeley, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio State, and UCLA) use the system that is used by the UT Graduate School. Two (Wisconsin and Michigan State) use only a single intermediate grade between A and B, between B and C, etc.; one (U. Washington) uses a decimal system that contains nine intermediate grades between A and B, etc.. Common use of plus/minus grading by the majority of major universities makes for easier comparison of grades for graduate school applications.
5. Currently, the pluses and minuses are dropped from grades of students who transfer from other schools to UT. This can create a discrepancy between the student’s calculated GPA at the two universities.
6. With plus/minus grading, students are less likely to perform “just well enough” to make an A, B, or C. The greater continuity of possible grades means that students are awarded the grades appropriate to their performance in a course.

Some common objections to plus/minus grading:

1. There is no overwhelming need to change in the system.
Response: Faculty who have no need for pluses and minuses, or do not choose to assign pluses and minuses, can continue to use the current system. Grading in some courses may be more qualitative in nature, so that a finer distinction of grades than the existing letter grades is unnecessary. Faculty would not be required to use plus/minus grading but would have the option.

2. The assignment of minuses can have a negative effect on minimum requirements for GPA.
Response: It is true that a student who needs to maintain a 2.0 grade average cannot do so by consistently earning C-minuses (which would result in a grade point average of 1.67). But that seems entirely appropriate. Students who need to maintain a B or C average would need to maintain a legitimate B or C average, and not simply “squeak by.”

3. Since faculty are not required to use pluses and minuses, this difference could lead to inequities for students with different professors teaching the same course.
Response: There is nothing to ensure uniformity of grading in the present system, and it is not clear that the addition of pluses and minuses would increase inequity. The choice about whether or not to use pluses and minuses is likely to be determined more by the nature of the course (courses that use qualitative versus quantitative grading, for instance) than by different professors for the same course.

4. There is concern that the use of a plus/minus grading system could lower GPA’s for “A” students (since there is no plus to balance the lower GPA for a minus in the case of an A). The concern is that top students might be less competitive than they have been for graduate school, fellowships and other achievements based on GPA.
Response: This is the flipside of arguing that plus/minus grading is potentially a tool to combat grade inflation. The effect on top students, however, is at least as likely to be positive. Top students who receive the occasional B are much more likely to benefit from the B+ grade. Also, faculty who now assign very few A’s may be more willing to assign A minuses. In any case, given that all of our peer institutions use plus/minus grading, this change would increase the equity of comparisons for students from different universities.

The proposed motion is deliberately brief. The system that is used currently for graduate courses is recommended for the sake of consistency. An implementation schedule is not specified, so that the appropriate administrative offices will not be subjected to difficult time schedules for implementation, and sufficient time will be available for departments, colleges, and programs to assess the effects of the changes and develop any necessary catalog changes. The sense of the motion is that the new system will be implemented as soon as practical. The registrar’s office has stated that they foresee no implementation difficulties.