Campus reflects on grading scale’s impact, usefulness
Gannon University professors and students are adjusting to life under a new regime – the regime of the nearly year-old grading scale, that is.
Last March, the Provost’s Council and the Faculty Senate announced the university-wide change to the pluses-only scale. The new scale adds minuses to the system, and the minuses drop several GPA points into the next lowest letter grade. For example, students must get a B – between 83 and 87 – to record a 3.0 for the course. Under the former scale, a student would only have to get an 80 to receive the 3.0 mark.
Senior business administration major Carly Manion said she doesn’t like the new scale as much as the old one.
“It’s really hard to get the type of grade you’re looking for,” Manion said. “I was much more happier earning an A whether my grade was a 100 percent or a 90 percent.
“There’s a lot more ‘wiggle room’ on the old scale.”
Interim Associate Provost Michael Caulfield, Ph.D., said he understands why students were upset that the university altered the student-friendly grading scale.
“It’s very understandable because the former grading scale gave students an advantage,” Caulfield said. “It gave you an opportunity to raise your GPA without having the corresponding option of maybe having your GPA drop.”
After the first announcement of the change, students took the most umbrage with the policy, but even professors felt they needed a clearer explanation. Chemistry professor Carl Hultman, Ph.D., said he heard about the new scale from one of his students.
“After 35 years of teaching, no one ever indicated [to me] that there was a problem,” Hultman said. “Why was there a change? Why was Gannon under pressure to do this?”
But Hultman admitted his problem with the new grading scale stemmed from the lack of communication from the people who made the decision.
“I wasn’t on the committee and I never received an explanation,” he said. “I think me not being in favor of it was because of the ignorance of not knowing why they were doing this.”
Caulfield said a survey of neighboring peer institutions also factored in to the decision.
“[We] found that we were in a very small minority of universities who award pluses without also awarding minuses at the same time,” Caulfield said. “So it isn’t that we changed just because everybody else was doing it, but that’s just another piece of the puzzle that shows us we were a little bit out of step.”
Senior physician assistant major Ashleigh Bielecki said she thinks the new scale is fair, but she is disappointed with how the change was implemented.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t been given any other choice than to accept it and adjust to it,” she said.
Patricia Marshall, an assistant professor and undergraduate program director in the Villa Maria School of Nursing, said she has noticed that students felt they didn’t get a say when the decision was made to introduce the new scale.
“They weren’t so sure that their opinion counted,” Marshall said. “My response was they need to get involved in SGA.”
In order to spread the news about the grading scale change, the members of the Faculty Senate met with the deans, department chairs and program directors while Linda Fleming, Ph.D., the interim provost and vice president of academic affairs at the time, met with the Student Government Association.
“If we’re going to have representative government, both for the faculty and the students, for us to engage those representatives seemed like the right way to approach it,” Caulfield said. “Then how those bodies handled their work is clearly their own business.”
Caulfield went on to say that it is the responsibility of the department chairs, programs directors and SGA to pass along the information to the larger body of professors and students they represent.
“If people do that, then I think that the ways that we’re trying to disseminate information would work well,” he said. “But it is true that if that breaks down, then our method of just reaching out to SGA, for example, isn’t going to be very effective, because there’s may be a block somewhere else.”
Current SGA President Ange Coustillac said that SGA was not a part of the decision to implement a new grading scale, and thus the organization does not have an official stance on the issue.
“We support the university’s efforts to make change in a positive direction,” Coustillac said. “Personally, I understand why the university made the move. It allows us to compete with other students from other universities.”
Hultman said despite the lack of communication and the adjustments students and faculty have had to make this year, the grading scale is in the best interests of the university.
“It will be much more accurate with a little bit more busy work, but if this is the way the rest of the country is going, then Gannon should do it,” Hultman said. “We generally don’t do this stuff unless it’s good for the students.”
Caulfield said that the new grading scale may provide some more student-professor grade conflicts because of the number of “cutoffs” in the system, but overall, the benefits outweigh the negatives.
“Hopefully, we’re different in the sense that it’s a little more clear what your grade represents,” Caulfield said.
Marshall said that the school of nursing had discussed changing its grading scale before the university made its official change, but nursing uses a percent-to-letter method, whereas the registrar converts it to GPA.
The change for the school of nursing, then, made it so that students had to pass all their nursing courses with a C, as opposed to the university-wide C-minus.
“A C-minus is defined as below average,” Marshall said. “We would want our nursing students to remain average or above average.
“They are going to be health professionals.”
MC Gensheimer, an assistant professor of communication arts, said she approves of the new university-wide scale. In fact, she’s always used her own scale of pluses and minuses when grading.
“There’s a fairness factor when awarding an 89 and an 80,” Gensheimer said. “Nine points is a significant indicator for me. A grade is meant to communicate to a student a level of aptitude and application. The clearer the communication the better the process.
Jeff Bloodworth, Ph.D., chair of the history department, said he could “never understand” why anyone would oppose the new scale.
“If you don’t like it, my advice is work harder,” Bloodworth said. “I worked hard as an undergrad, and I always appreciated professors who were hard graders. I always assumed my professor knew better than me.”
Bielecki said the grading scale change has been tougher on some programs than others; namely, the health science programs that carry a minimum-GPA requirement. She also said that her class received too late of a notice that the scale would change, thus eliminating the luxury of “buffering” their GPAs in anticipation of their final year.
“[We had no] opportunity to retake any classes in order to potentially better our GPAs before entering our fourth, and hardest, year of the program,” she said.
Marshall, meanwhile, said nursing students have been given a one-semester-only reprieve that allows them to pass with a C-minus, in order to let the older students adjust to the new scale. But she said that the change has not made an impact on many students across the curriculum.
Bloodworth acknowledged that the grading scale may affect the other academic disciplines in different ways, but he maintained the updated scale benefits all students, no matter their major.
“I understand that the grading scale might make it more difficult for some programs more so than others,” he said, “but we all want students at their best when they leave here, right?”
Editor-in-chief Kelly Moreland contributed to this story.
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