Controversial new grading system

In the past, students’ report card plusses served mainly ornamental purposes; now, they will be an integral part of their GPAs. “[The new system] was literally decided a day before school started, “ said science teacher Mr. Lazere. There wasn’t enough time given to think about [the new grading system]. I’m not really sure all of the staff really understood the ‘A+’ tweak. Everything was done in a hurried manner.” Under the new school-wide system, a plus letter grade will count a third of a point higher than a plain letter, and a minus grade will count a third of a point lower. For example, a ‘B+’ will be worth 3.333, a ‘B’ worth 3.0, and a ‘B-’ worth 2.666. According to UNI Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Daniel Schofield, before this year, Ames High was one of the few Iowa high schools that did not factor plusses and minuses into students’ GPAs. According to the high school administration, the new system attempts to fix several perceived problems with the old system. “Before this system, you could have an 89 percent, and another student in the same class could have 81 percent, and you two would get the same grade,” said Ames High principal Mike McGrory. “So we thought that, out of fairness, the student with an 89 percent will get a ‘B+’, and the student with an 81 percent will get a ‘B-’.” Second, students were not motivated to get high percentages within their letter grade range. There was simply little incentive to aim for a “high” A, B, or C. McGrory said that at the end of the semester, students could not raise their letter grades even if they aced their final exams. Furthermore, some students could get lower than an F on the exam and keep their grades. In addition, to further encourage students and be fair to students in the ‘A’ range, McGrory said that ‘A+’s would be awarded and worth 4.333. But most of all, McGrory said that as a result of the above factors, “students will increase their GPAs. We think that [the new system] will help [students] as far as college and so forth.” However, even with its positive changes, the new system has created some inequities for certain students. In particular, many 4.0 or near-4.0 students are protesting the change. “For the ‘A’ students, it won’t balance out because [in some classes] it will be nearly impossible to get the ‘A+’. They won’t get many ‘A+’s with the current grading scales,” Lazere said. In several classes, an ‘A+’ is set at only 100 percent. For students seeking to get a 4.0 GPA without taking ‘A+’s into account, the new system has effectively raised the bar from around 90 percent to around 93 percent. In many AP classes, the number of ‘A-’s has greatly exceeded the number of ‘A’s. In addition, there is some doubt that the administration’s claims will come to fruition. “I don’t think [that the argument for motivation] holds a lot of water,” Lazere said. “I think it might make a little difference…In a few cases, there might be students who work harder, but certainly in the AP courses, most students work pretty hard anyway.” Schofield notes that for average students in the B or C range “there are just as many plusses as there are minuses awarded, so in the whole scheme of things, it evens out, fifty-fifty.” Even if a fourth of a student’s grades were minuses with no plusses, his GPA would decrease by less than a tenth. Add plusses in the mix, and the change becomes insignificant. An unlikely, but possible, way to partially alleviate key problems with the new system is simply to list two GPAs—one calculated using the new system and one on the old system. “In fact, that might be worth investigating,” Schofield said. Iowa’s Regent universities do not recompute grades and will use the highest number listed on the transcript in their admissions formula, regardless of the high school’s grading scale. Schofield said that there was simply not enough of a difference or enough resources to do so. “There are some students who are extremely grade-conscious, but in the end, grades are not all that important, other than the really selective schools,” Lazere said. “Even in those cases, I can’t believe that a couple of ‘A-’s would make the difference. They look at other things. They look at SATs and ACTs; they look at your recommendations; they look at letters. And don’t forget extracurriculars.”