Making the grade: Plus & minus grading system

By Brian Guttman

A B isn’t what it used to be.

The beginning of the semester meant changes to NIU’s grading system. At the professor’s choice, courses may now use a plus/minus scale.

“I think that by the end of the semester, it will be as though it was always the plus/minus system, and there won’t be any big deal one way or the other,” said Alan Rosenbaum, Faculty Senate president and University Council executive secretary.

The plus/minus system has been debated by student and faculty representatives for more than two years. Shortly after its proposal in the Faculty Senate, a study was conducted looking into the change’s possible effects, like poor student morale and lower GPAs. These concerns prompted the Student Association to start a petition requesting more student input, and it was turned in to then-NIU President John Peters on Nov. 16.

“One thousand, ninety-six undergraduate students felt that student input was not adequately taken into consideration,” said Mike Theodore, SA chief of staff.

The Faculty Senate will chart the effects of plus/minus grading by compiling data on how grades have been distributed in the past. The data will be compared to this semester and future ones.

“The places that we spoke to, the people that we spoke to, all said the same thing, which is that the transition was seamless, that all the concerns that people were raising did not occur, and that there were no problems, and that students were not unhappy, and that there was not an impact on GPA,” Rosenbaum said.

Theodore is concerned instructors might not be aware using the new system is a choice, and said he had an instructor in the spring who had plus/minus on his syllabus, even though the system didn’t start until fall.

“I think the difficulty that we’re going to see with the implementation of plus/minus this year is that the faculty might not be on the same page,” Theodore said.

Students also shared in the confusion.

“I believe all the classes are supposed to. I don’t know. Is there an option?” said senior journalism major Daniel Pritchett.

How plus/minus will affect students and their grades is unknown.

“Well, I think I’d say the same thing to them [confused students] as I would to any student: You do your best, you study hard, you do as well as you can, and your grades will reflect that,” Rosenbaum said.