Editor's note

In the past, students’ report card plusses served mainly ornamental purposes; now, they will be an integral part of their GPAs. Two years ago, Ames High teachers and administrators began to seriously consider counting plusses and minuses in students’ GPAs. However, they postponed the proposal, and whether or not the system would be implemented remained a question. But just as the old grading system seemed set for the semester, Ames High approved the new grading system the day before the current semester began. “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,” said science teacher Michael Lazere. 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. First of all, many teachers and students thought that ten-percent differences were too rough to accurately reflect student achievement. “Before this system, you could have an 89 percent, and another student in the same class could have 81 percent, and you guys will 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. “[The new system] would motivate students. Let’s take a final [for example]. We know students look at it and say, ‘Hey, even if I get 100 percent. I still can’t get an ‘A’ for the class. I can only get a ‘B’, so I’m not going to try that hard, because even if I get 35 percent, I still keep my ‘B’.” But if they can get a ‘B+’, they may say, ‘I’m going to try for that,’” said McGrory. In addition, to further encourage students and be fair to students in the ‘A’ range, McGrory said that ‘A+’s would be awarded, worth 4.333. “Students can use the ‘A+’ to offset a minus grade. The reason we did that was because out of fairness to the students, that if we’re giving plusses out in every other grade—we give ‘B+’s, ‘C+’s—why wouldn’t we give an ‘A+’?” 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. “People who I’ve talked to so far don’t like it,” said an anonymous 4.0 junior. “I think it’s punishing the 4.0 students.” Even though ‘A+’s will be awarded, it is unlikely that students will receive enough ‘A+’s to offset ‘A-’s—in several classes, an ‘A+’ is set at 100 percent. In fact, even though all teachers are required to give ‘A+’s, several teachers told junior Andrew Moore that he would not get an ‘A+’ in their classes. 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 greatly exceeds the number of ‘A’s. In addition, there is some doubt that the administration’s claims will come to fruition. One argument is that many students, especially those taking AP or Honors classes, are already putting in their best efforts. “I don’t think [the argument for motivation] holds a lot of water,” said Lazere. “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, and I don’t think [the new grading system] would make a difference.” Schofield notes that for average students “there are just as many plusses as there are minuses when grades are awarded, so in the whole scheme of things it evens out, fifty-fifty. In other words, the GPA isn’t affected at all if plusses and minuses were or were not used.” “Now there could be a case where there is a student who has an excessive amount of plusses, in which case that student would be helped. On the other hand, you could have an excessive amount of minuses, and that student, for GPA purposes would be hurt,” continued Schofield. 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,” said Schofield. “If both GPAs were posted, [UNI] would use the GPA that is most beneficial to the student.” Schofield said that Iowa’s Regent universities do not re-compute grades and will use the highest number listed on the transcript in their admissions formula, regardless of the high school’s grading scale. “But in the end, grades are not all that important,” said Lazere. “Other than the really selective schools, and even in those cases, I can’t believe 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. “I would favor doing away with grades or just switching to a portfolio that shows the skills students have with recommendation…Grades gave some meaning, but I don’t think an outsider can get a lot of information about the student…such as work ethic and responsibility.”