4.0 may no longer make the cut

Carnegie Mellon students across all disciplines may soon be seeing pluses and minuses next to their semester grades, and perfection extending far beyond a 4.0.

At Thursday’s Senate meeting, the Faculty Senate presented its proposal for +/– grading for all undergraduates.

Vivian Loftness, an architecture professor and head of the Faculty Senate, explained the motivations behind initiating a new grading system for undergraduates while maintaining effective feedback. Citing Carnegie Mellon as “among the toughest QPA schools in our pool,” Loftness explained that this initiative has the potential to raise student QPAs.

“Can professors give adequate feedback with a C as a middle grade?” Loftness asked.

Loftness and members of the Faculty Senate voted as a body in favor of further exploring this question through capturing grades that might have been earned if +/- grading existed.

The Faculty Senate hopes to work with John Papinchak, director of Enrollment Services and university registrar, in instituting a shadow system by which willing faculty members would submit a spreadsheet comparing full letter grades given with the grades that would have been given on a +/- scale at the end of each semester. They would then be able to see the trends in student QPAs.

The faculty presented a similar idea to this +/– proposal five years ago, but due to lack of student support, it was not continued.

Faculty members have always been given the option to do +/- grading at mid-semester.

However, Loftness insisted that students cannot rely on mid-semester grades to show what would happen if there were a change, since these are mostly used as indicators.

Although it has never been instituted for undergraduates, a similar +/– grading system exists with graduate students.

Titled the 4+ Graduate Student Grading Standard, the system, instituted in 1995, applies to all graduate colleges and allows the possibility of getting a QPA above a 4.0 (except for CIT and H&SS). A student who receives all A+ grades is given a 4.33, while a student with all A– grades is given a 3.67 QPA.

Under the current undergraduate system, the same QPA earned with all As could be earned by getting both As and Bs.

“Most of our peer institutions have a +/- system [for undergraduates],” Papinchak said.

Student opinions differed greatly on the matter.

At the Senate meeting, many students expressed concern that +/– grading would benefit only certain academic colleges, specifically CFA and H&SS, while hurting CIT, MCS, and SCS.

There was also a big worry that this system would perpetuate what is already a “culture of stress,” as one student described.

Loftness mentioned that the idea for testing was in preliminary stages and that each department and major would be individually and carefully looked at.

Jared Itkowitz, a junior business administration major and Student Senate chair, performed an informal straw poll of both Senators and non-Senators present at the meeting about +/– grading.

One student voted to implement it immediately, 46 voted to investigate the matter, and nine voted to drop the matter completely.

The Faculty Senate hopes to soon be able to formalize its proposal and bring a vote to the Student Senate.