New grading system will bring more competition
Originally published in The Tartan on 02.11.2008. Visit www.thetartan.org.
Written with input from the editorial board of The Tartan.
The old news: Carnegie Mellon is home to a competitive and stressful environment.

It's hard to believe that this campus could become more competitive than it already is. However, this past week, Student Senate posted notices of a new grading system being pushed by Faculty Senate: incorporating +/- grading into undergraduate QPAs.

The good news: Now students could have even more opportunities to engage in competitive complaining.

Currently, undergraduate students are graded on a 4.0 scale. Graduate students, however, are already graded with +/- considerations. For all graduate students except those in CIT and H&SS, an A+ is worth 4.33 grade quality points. The 4.33 sounds good, at least until you compare it to an A-, which is only worth 3.67 grade points. Suddenly, the 3.67 you could get with a few As and a B is obsolete — now you would need As-to-A-pluses to balance out A-minuses.

This grading system, as used for current graduate students, is called the 4+ Graduate Student Grading Standard, and seems to be something that would just serve to further stratify undergraduates. The system changes the meaning of "straight As," adding another level of stress to students' already-burdened mental states. The fact that this method would divide student grades into more sections for students to fit into seems to contradict the reason Carnegie Mellon gives for not ranking students, according to Enrollment Services' Academic Regulations: "In an institution where students' educational experiences are so varied, class rank is not a meaningful way to measure achievement."

This begs the question: What purpose does the 4+ system serve? Does the current 10-point-spread-per-letter-grade allow too many students to get As? It only makes sense that in the end, implementing this system might result in inflated grades. It's said that our undergraduate grades are lower on average than those of our peer institutions, so the system could help students stay in the nationally accepted 4.0 scale.

It is important to note that a few years ago, Student Senate discussed the same +/- grading system — and voted against it. There is some worry over whether the new A+ grades will even be attainable, as professors may be hesitant to give them out to students whose performances are even slightly flawed.

The academic environment here is already intense, competitive, and stressful; students don't need an increasingly stratified grading system to heighten these qualities.
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