Plus and Minus Grading Debate at San Diego Mesa

Academic Senate President, San Diego Mesa College

The Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges have adopted new regulations regarding plus and minus grading. These new regulations became effective on February 11, 1998. The new regulations allow each community college district in California to decide whether plus and minus grading will be used.

On April 27, 1998, The San Diego Mesa College Academic Senate sponsored a debate on this new regulation. A large audience of faculty and students attended and were permitted to ask questions of the panelists to further enhance the debate. Some of the salient points made by each side were:

Supporters argued that changing the grading system to plus and minus would provide a more accurate system of grading and would provide more concise information to students regarding progress and performance; would improve teacher/student communication; would increase student motivation to improve their grades by providing smaller increments between grades; would increase student retention by giving students an opportunity to improve a grade late into the semester; and would more closely align with the grading systems of most UC and CSU campuses, to which many of our students transfer.

Opponents argued that the plus and minus option is inconsistent, since A+ and C- would not be allowed; that it would be unfair and cause many students confusion since the plus and minus option is permissive. That is, the new system allows every college in the system to choose whether or not to implement plus and minus grading. Within each college that chooses to do so, it is then up to each instructor to decide whether to implement it in each class; that student GPA's could be negatively affected; that students could be hurt when being compared to students who were not graded in a plus and minus system; that the present system puts our students in a better light when being compared to students from other colleges in the USA where this is not a common grading practice; and that the administrative cost to implement the change would be very high, perhaps as much as $500,000 to implement it districtwide.

At the end of the debate, a straw poll was taken among the students present. The majority voted against adopting the current regulations. On the other hand, a majority voted in support of a policy that would include A+ and C- grades and that would be mandatory (not permissive) for every community college statewide.

The San Diego Mesa College Academic Senate will be called on to take a position on plus and minus grading to the local Board of Trustees early this fall.

A complete videotape of the debate is available in the Academic Senate Office.