What is the new policy on the use of plus and minus grade symbols?
Recently the Foothill and De Anza Academic Senates asked the Board to approve adoption of plus/minus grade symbols. The Board approved the adoption of the new grading scale with a condition; a two-year "study period" began this fall with full adoption to follow in the fall of 2006 unless the study period uncovers significant adverse effects on students.
The adopted policy states:
Approved revised Policy 6125, "Grading," with the following stipulations:
  • Starting with the fall term of the 2006-07 academic year, the grade scale will include plus and minus symbols.  Grade points will be calculated as described in the Grade Scale table.
  • A period of partial implementation will begin with the fall term of the 2004-05 academic year and continue through the 2005-06 academic year.  During this period the grade scale will include the plus and minus symbols, and faculty members will be able to record course grades using the plus and minus symbols.  However, only the base letter grades will be used to calculate the grade points until the scheduled full implementation in the fall 2006 term.
  • The period of partial implementation is intended to provide time to educate faculty members and students about plus/minus grading and to study the effects of adoption.  Full implementation will follow the partial implementation as scheduled unless substantial adverse impact on students is demonstrated.
  • Grade Scale:
    A+ A A- B+ B B- C+ C D+ D D- F
    4.0 4.0 3.7 3.3 3.0 2.7 2.3 2.0 1.3 1.0 0.7 0.0
Why are we doing this?
A short answer is because the faculty determined by vote that this change was desirable. A longer answer recognizes factors that were discussed more thoroughly prior to adoption: consistency with the system used at UC and CSU campuses, the fact that +/i symbols will reduce the size of certain grade inequities that result with a system using only base letter grades, the belief held by many faculty members that they can distinguish between, say, B and B+ work, and the recognition that student effort to improve a grade that falls short of that required for a full letter grade change can result in a change under the +/i system.
Am I required to use a plus/minus grading system during the study (or “partial implementation” period?
No. The use of “+” and “-“ symbols during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 academic years is optional. In fact, assigned “+” and “-“ symbols will not appear on students’ permanent grade records during this period. In addition, it is the fundamental right and responsibility of individual faculty members to determine what grade symbols best represent their students’ performance in courses they teach.
However, the Academic Senates encourage faculty to begin using the “+” and “-“ symbols during this partial implementation period for at least two reasons, both of which were recognized in the Board of Trustees adoption of the new system.
The Board approved full implementation of the new “+/-“ system starting in fall 2006 “unless substantial adverse impact on students is demonstrated.” Institutional Research has been directed to survey the grades assigned during the interim adoption period, with a goal of discovering what effect, if any, the new grading system may have on students.
Additionally, the “period of partial implementation is intended to provide time to educate faculty members and students about plus/minus grading.” Beginning the transition now will ensure widespread knowledge and understanding of the new system and decrease the potential for problems at the time of full adoption.
Will I be required to use a plus/minus grading system for my courses after full adoption in the fall of 2006?
While the Academic Senates described a situation in which faculty “acknowledge” the “+” and “-“ symbols, and expect widespread adoption by faculty, individual faculty are free to assign grades that they believe best reflect the performance of their students.
It is the position of the Academic Senates at both Foothill and De Anza Colleges that a plus/minus grading system allows an instructor to make finer and possibly more accurate distinctions in evaluating students’ performance and have argued this case successfully before the Board of Trustees. Senate language described a situation in which all faculty “acknowledge” the “+” and “-“ symbols. The Senates encourage faculty to use a plus/minus grading system in their courses.
However, individual faculty members have the right and responsibility to assign grades that they believe best reflect the performance of their students.
How long is this study going to last?
The directive from the Board of Trustees was to study the impact of plus/minus grading on student GPAs for a period of four quarters, beginning with the fall of 2004 and continuing through Fall 2005.
During the study period can I use plus/minus grading in some courses and not in others?
Yes. Indeed many instructors may want to experiment with the implementation of plus/minus grading in their courses. You may wish to compare different sections of the same class during the same quarter or you may wish to use plus/minus one quarter and not the next.
During the study period what happens to the plus and minus symbols I record on my final grade roster?
Plus and minus symbols will not be reported on transcripts or the official grade reports issued to students for the entire study period. The purpose of the study is to determine the impact, if any, of plus/minus grading on student GPAs in the district.
What happens to a student’s incentive to improve if he/she knows that during the study period he/she will earn a whole letter grade regardless of his/her effort?
The leadership of both senates and district research is aware of this concern about the study. District research has assured the leadership of both senates that all analysis of the data collected during the study period will acknowledge this failing in methodology.
Should I tell my students about the study in my green sheets/course syllabi?
This decision is your own to make. It is likely, however, that the student leadership on both campuses is informing students about the study and its implications for students.
It would be a good idea to be clear about this with your students so as to avoid possible misunderstandings. For example, if you intend to share the +’- grades with your students you may want to include a statement in your green sheet clarifying the fact that this is for the purposes of the study only and that your official transcript grades will not include the +/- symbols.
If I choose to use a plus/minus grading system in my courses, what grade symbols are available and what are their values in a standard 4.0 grading scale?
Grades should be calculated using the following state board approved scale:
A+ A A- B+ B B- C+ C D+ D D- F
4.0 4.0 3.7 3.3 3.0 2.7 2.3 2.0 1.3 1.0 0.7 0.0
Can I give a student a C- during the study period?
No. California Education Code does not allow the reporting of a C- grade.
Can I give a student an A+ during the study period?
Yes. However, the California Education Code defines a grading scale with NO grade greater than a 4.0 in the determination of a student’s GPA.
If you assign an A+ grade after the change is fully implemented the A+ will appear on the student’s transcript, although the A+ will earn 4.0 grade points. (This is consistent with current practice at public four-year institutions in California.)
I have more questions about the adoption of the +/- system. Who can a talk to about this and where can I get information about how to start doing this?
A good place to start is by contacting your Academic Senate officers directly or through your division Senate representatives. (Foothill College Academic Senate: academicsenate@foothill.edu)
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