9-6-16 Down Enrollment

A classroom sits empty in the basement of Lockett hall on Sept. 6, 2016.

Michael Palmer

The plus/minus grading system is arguably the worst decision the University has made. In the fall of 2015, the University adopted the trending grading system after many other institutions. For many educators, the plus/minus system was a revolutionary answer to the problem of grade inflation.

Studies show students' grade-point averages have improved significantly over the last two decades, without any improvement in college readiness tests such as the SAT. There has also been a higher enrollment in remedial classes.

It seems educators have forgotten two key principles when crusading for academic justice. The first is grade equity. Grade equity becomes a problem when students’ quality of work remains stable, but different grades are given based on the teacher, course and department. Professors use various methods to teach and assess student knowledge of the topic, and these factors are independent from students' control.

The standard grading system gives students a wider margin of error to account for grade equity.

According to Northern Arizona University, students with higher GPAs oppose the plus/minus system. This may be because the plus/minus system makes it incredibly hard to receive higher marks.

Before the plus/minus system, students could receive four points of credit for a course if they were given a 90 percent average or above. Presently, students have to receive credit for 93 percent of the grade, or sometimes as high as 95 percent, to receive four credit points. Educators claim there will be extra incentive to work harder due to the stricter grading system.

A study of economics classes at a Midwestern University concluded students who operated under a plus/minus system were not motivated to work harder than those under the standard system, effectively refuting this claim.

In fact, the plus/minus system seems to have an adverse effect. Amidst recent revelations about cheating scandals occurring at the University, there is no one to blame but the institution itself. The plus/minus grading system serves as a noose which suffocates students’ grade-point averages, along with the students themselves.

World renowned astrophysicist and host of the show “Cosmos,” Neil Degrasse Tyson, voices his opinion on the topic saying, “Students cheat on exams because the system values high grades more than students value learning.”

Tyson links the bridge many educators fail to see. Any educators' vision of a better education system which doesn’t consider the financial stress put on students is naive and dangerously misleading. In a society with gross income equality, many high school graduates feel pressured to attend college. Unfortunately, the privatization of colleges increases financial stress, which affects students’ learning abilities.

In recent years, college debt has reached a trillion dollars. Student are more likely to cheat than to trust themselves due to the thousands of dollars at stake. The contingency of failing college, falling into the lower end of a divided class state and accruing an egregious amounts of debt looms in the nightmares of every college student. 

A few weeks ago, Louisiana legislators ended a special session where they failed to reach agreement on budget-related issues. TOPS, the main scholarship program for higher education in Louisiana, may be affected. As TOPS’ future remains uncertain, it is important to note the current effects of a plus/minus system on the program.

With the previous grading systems, students could receive a C average in their classes and maintain a 2.0 grade-point average, the TOPS minimum for a freshman. With the plus/minus system, students can receive the same grade, but receive a 1.7 GPA from the University. 

School already destroys the curiosity of students. Historically proclaimed physicist, Albert Einstein, commented on the issue saying, “It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of education have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate  plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail."

Known for his passion towards science, he recalled his graduation, “This coercion had such a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.”

It is time for educators and politicians to start valuing student education over their own profit. An incremental grading system further emphasizes the importance of grades over learning. It is a tool for lazy employers to assess which employees should be hired. The plus/minus system is regressive toward the vision for better education.

Soheil Saneei is a biological engineering freshman from Metairie, Louisiana.

Editor's Note: This column was updated to correct a TOPS grade-point average specification error. 

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