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Students say new NMSU grading unfair

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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University students say the school’s new grading policy, which was approved last year and takes effect this summer, is unfair and makes them less competitive with their peers in Albuquerque.

NMSU regents approved the new grading scale for plus and minus grades last year, the university said. The new scale, which adds one-third of a point to a GPA for a plus on a letter grade and deducts the same for a minus one, takes effect this summer.

Until now, a plus or minus had no bearing on a GPA, meaning it was strictly honorary. Now, students who get a minus will have one-third of a point deducted, and vice versa if they have a plus.

But the new scale is missing one thing that students say jilts those who put in extra effort in class: an extra one-third point for students who get an A plus.

“As you can tell, students are not happy that an A plus is not equal to a 4.3,” Wesley Jackson, vice president of the Associated Students of NMSU, told regents in June.

Jackson said an amendment to the scale approved adding the .3 points to a 4.0 would help NMSU students compete with University of New Mexico students, who do get the extra fraction of a point, although it does not appear regents will take up that request.

Jackson said students who receive an A minus, which will now equal a 3.7 GPA, could raise their overall average by getting an A plus in another course if it were worth the fractional point.

“I do not believe it’s fair to penalize students. With the new system, a 4.0 cannot be maintained if a student earns only one A minus,” Jackson said.

Jackson told the Journal that numerous students have emailed and called the ASNMSU office to complain about the new system. He said many said they weren’t in on the changes when they were decided.

“Students didn’t know much about it. A lot of the questions were, ‘When did this happen?’ and ‘Why did this happen?” Jackson said.

However, the NMSU administration said students were involved in the five-year-long process of changing the grading scale.

The plus and minus system allows professors to use a more fine-grained scale and provides equity to students, the university says. For example, two students who have a disparate performance in class, such as one who gets an 81 and another who gets an 89, would otherwise have the same letter grade: a B. But under the new scale, if a professor uses conventional grading, those students would have a B minus and a B plus, respectively.

Dennis Clason, Faculty Senate chairman, said the traditional categorical scale can be arbitrary when a student who, for example, gets a 79 in class and one who gets an 81 would have completely different letter grades.

Fractional grading, or the plus and minus, “reduces the difference between those arbitrary groups,” Clason said.

Clason said faculty strongly favor the new system because it gives meaning to the plus or minuses that have until now been meaningless.

“So there had been discussion among the faculty for quite a while,” Clason said. He said the thinking was that if NMSU was going to use pluses and minuses, “they ought to mean something.”

“To say this is years in the making would be accurate. This isn’t something that was suddenly sprung on the students,” Clason said.

The lack of an extra one-third point won’t affect students going to graduate and professional schools, such as medical and law, which recompute student GPAs based on their own scales, Clason said. That means that if a student at NMSU were to have a 4.3 GPA, but the graduate program to which they applied used a 4.0 scale, their GPA would be recalculated to fit that scale.

“From the point of view of the Faculty Senate, this has been a long, drawn out process and I haven’t heard any movement in the faculty to revisit the issue.”

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