Here at Asbury, class grades are calculated with plusses and minuses, a system aptly called the Plus-Minus Grading Scale. The program is not universal, as many schools use a system that abstains from plusses and minuses. For example, a student who finishes with a 91 in a class at Asbury earns an A- (which is 3.7 grade points) while a student who finishes with a 91 in a class at UK earns a full-fledged A (4.0 grade points).
Supporters of this system argue that it acknowledges the difference between two letter grades isn’t as jarring as a grade point average might make it seem. Andrew Bressette of Berry College, in his essay promoting the plus-minus system, wrote “the addition of more grading categories would allow faculty to make finer distinctions among students”,
These minute differences can have a massive impact on one’s future earnings and job prospects. For example, most states require at least a 2.5 GPA for a student to be certified as a teacher, and in many states that bar can bee raised as high as 3.0.
This technicality can also affect students’ finances while still in Wilmore. Fractions of a percent can make or break students who have won scholarships (either from Asbury or from a third party) that have a minimum GPA. For example, Asbury’s John Wesley Hughes Scholarship pays full tuition for two selected students. However, those students have to maintain a cumulative 3.60 GPA, which can be thrown off by the plus-minus scale.
Let’s say a Hughes Scholar took five classes worth three credit hours each, equating to fifteen hours total. If the student finishes with a grade of 91 in three of her classes and a grade of 89 in the other two classes, she’ll lose her scholarship. At Asbury, three nineties and two eighty-nines translates to a GPA of 3.54, only a sliver off of the 3.60 required of Hughes Scholars.
If we apply the same scenario to our neighbors at UK (assuming that UK has a scholarship with the same requirement), the student would have three As and two Bs, which adds up to a sufficient 3.60 GPA.
Critics of subjective grading tend to advocate for universal tests to measure aptitude. Many professions already require such exams: wannabe attorneys must pass a bar exam to gain legal qualification while accountants are required to take the Uniform CPA Exam if they want to CPAs (Certified Public Accountants). Universal testing throughout one’s college education could give employers a better perspective on the student’s merits than a GPA.
However, given the recent backlash against standardized tests due to their inherent pressure on a student, it’s clear that standardized tests are shrinking in popularity instead of growing, and it looks like we might be stuck with a flawed grading system for years to come.