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Grading system debate unresolved

(Illustration by Kokopelli Staff)

The fractional grading system at NMSU has come under scrutiny by ASNMSU and the Faculty Senate. While ASNMSU supported changing the system, the Faculty Senate, by way of the Scholastic Affairs committee, decided to delay making any decision for a year.

The current grading system awards more points to letter grades above D assigned a plus and less to those assigned a minus, with the exception of A-pluses and C-minuses.

The fractional grading system currently in place assigns different grade point values to most plus and minus letter grades.

Several students in different majors have expressed their lack of enthusiasm toward fractional grading. A common concern is the lack of acknowledgement for students who achieve the letter grade A-plus. Unlike the grading system at the University of New Mexico, an A-plus does not equate to a 4.3; it remains a 4.0.

“An A and an A-plus are both a 4.0, but an A-minus is less, so it messes up your GPA,” said computer science major Liliana Aguirre Esparza.

In February, ASNMSU passed Resolution 44 to formally request the current grading system be changed and a new grading system be applied uniformly across campus. ASNMSU passed this resolution on the grounds that the current system has failed to reduce grade inflation, has made NMSU students less competitive than students at peer institutions, and has harmed more students than it has helped.

These data come from a grading analysis conducted by the NMSU Office of Institutional Analysis. One issue mentioned in the resolution is the lack of consistency in the current grading system. Instructors are able to choose whether they would like to use fractional grading for their courses.

Paola Flores, a communication disorders major, said only two of her instructors are using the fractional grading system. Flores added, “It’s unfair because even if you get a good grade, like 90, it is an A-minus.” Students like Esparza and Flores feel as if their hard work is not being recognized with the grading system.

On February 25, 2019, the Faculty Senate submitted Proposition 15-18/19, which proposes implementing a system in which pluses and minuses do not affect grade point values.

The grading system proposed in Proposition 15-18/19 would not change the grade point value of a letter grade assigned a plus or minus.

Several administrators supported the proposed change. Director of the University Financial Aid and Scholarships office Vandeen McKenzie wrote a letter in support of shifting away from the current system. McKenzie indicated the shift away from fractional grading could help students maintain their financial aid and therefore improve retention and graduation rates. She wrote, “I support this proposal and its capability of raising grade point averages that can affect students’ opportunities to maintain their federal student aid eligibility and retaining scholarships.”

Dr. Miriam Chaiken, the dean of the NMSU Honors College, also wrote a letter of support. Chaiken cited reasoning similar to McKenzie’s and also is “concerned that the current system does not offer credit above 4.0 for A+ grades.”

University Registrar Dacia Sedillo also supported the Faculty Senate proposal. Sedillo communicated that she was concerned that the current system made it more difficult for students to qualify not only for “academic merit scholarships,” but also “selective academic programs both internal and external to NMSU.” Sedillo added that changing the grading system would “result in a modest one-time cost” to the university.

Despite this administrative support for the proposition, the Faculty Senate was unable to reach a decision about whether to keep the current fractional grading system in place. NMSU geology professor Jeff Amato prepared a presentation in which he pointed out the current system received input from many campus groups including students. He also pointed out the current system is used by the majority of universities in the U.S. and was voted into policy by the Faculty Senate and approved by the NMSU Board of Regents.

Amato’s presentation also indicated 60 percent of NMSU’s peer institutions use fractional grading, and that “grading systems are not in place to help or harm students, [but to] accurately reflect student performance.”

The Faculty Senate discussed the proposal April 4 and voted to take the discussion to the table at the next meeting and to the Scholastic Affairs Committee for a final decision. The committee ultimately amended the proposition April 16 by moving that the “university set up a task force, consisting of all stakeholders, to complete a study of the university grading scoring system, and to propose any changes to the faculty senate within a year.”

Head of the Scholastic Affairs Committee, Gary Rayson, explained that before changes can be made, further analysis and evaluation of the grading system needs to take place.

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