Baylor should ditch the plus, minus on the grading scale

Summer Merkle | Cartoonist

Imagine working hour after hour on assignments all semester, studying hard and keeping a good grade in the class. You score a 95% on the final. Your final grade turns into a 92.9%. Good job! You aced it, right?


Turns out your professor requires a 93% in the class to make an A. With Baylor’s current grading system, your would-be A actually counts as an A-minus. Instead of counting as a 4.0 toward your GPA, it counts as a 3.67. Had you only increased your final grade by 0.1% in the class, you’d have another 0.33 points toward your GPA. That can mean a lot. But your teacher won’t round it, and now you’re stuck, all because your A was a tenth of a percent too low.

But you can make up for it in another class by scoring a 97% or above to make an A-plus, right?

Wrong again.

There are no A-pluses in the current grading scale, so not only are you hurting with your A-minus, but there isn’t a fair way for you to balance it out. In order to stop putting students at a disadvantage, Baylor should adopt a straight A-B-C-D-F grading scale. No pluses, no minuses.

Schools like Carnegie Mellon University and Brown University successfully use a straight letter grade scale without incremental GPA values, as did Baylor up until 2014 when the plus/minus system was implemented. Before then, professors at Baylor had the option to use straight letter grades or give out pluses as well.

Professors do still have discretion in how grades are broken down; they can choose to ignore minuses or adjust what percentages are needed for each grade. But many stick to the plus/minus format recommended by Baylor. If you’re a low-A or low-B student, you can probably remember a time when this policy has bitten you before.

So why change a system that was already working? Some argue adding the plus/minus scale allows professors to have more flexibility in assigning value to a student’s work, which makes feedback more specifically catered to each student’s performance. But using a straight letter grading system doesn’t take away percentages — making a 99% on a paper is clearly more positive feedback than making a 92%. But if a professor is willing to stamp an A on a piece of work, regardless of the sign that may or may not come after it, they should be okay with that student receiving full GPA credit for that class. The distinction between a 92% and a 99% should then stand as feedback alone, allowing the student to take instructional criticism to better their work in the future.

And if any students are thinking, “Hey! That isn’t fair! I worked hard for my 96% and anyone who gets a 92% deserves their lower GPA,” stop it. Don’t be that kid. Nobody likes someone who thinks other students should suffer because they got a lower grade. Take your A, and move on. School is a place for cultivating knowledge, so if you’re more worried about how someone else’s slightly lower grade compares to yours, you’re in for a real shock post-graduation.

In the meantime, using a straight letter grading scale would not only positively impact students’ GPA, but it would make it much less complicated to calculate it without having to go through Baylor’s specific GPA calculator. All of the frustration regarding GPA would be greatly alleviated if there was a strict, cut-and-dry system like straight letter grades.

Though maybe well intended, Baylor’s current plus/minus grading scale with incremental GPAs isn’t what’s best for students. It’s inconsistent, as students can negatively impact their GPA with an A-minus but can’t equalize it with an A-plus. Changing the policy to allow for A-pluses weighted at 4.33 should be done at the very least. But the best course of action is to drop the pluses and minuses from letter grades, letting them stand alone to evaluate student’s work in a way that is clear and fair to all.