Grading Procedures at the University of Oklahoma, 2006-2007:

An Evaluation and Recommendations





By the OU Grading Task Force

Submitted February 3, 2007




Table of Contents:


1.  Introduction and Executive Summary

2.  The Task Force Process

3.  Grading Models, Regular Grading and Plus/Minus Grading

4.  Predicted Effects of Switching to Plus/Minus Grading

5.  Campus Opinion

6.  Logical and Legitimate Opinions on which to Base Recommendations

7.  Recommendations and Rationale

8.  Conclusion

9.  Attachments




1.  Charge to the Task Force by Provost Mergler

2.  Summary of Grading Procedures at Big 12 Universities

3.  Task Force Members

4.  Orientation sheet for Student Forum

5.  University of Oklahoma Student Association resolution

6.  Faculty Unit-level Information Sheet and Survey Form

7.  Faculty Unit-level Survey Results



Introduction and Executive Summary


            With direction and leadership from both the office of the Provost and the Faculty Senate, an OU Grading Task Force was formed during late summer, 2006.  The task force ultimately consisted of four faculty, two students, and three administrators.  The first meeting occurred in late September, 2006, and weekly meetings were held throughout the fall semester.  This report summarizes the activities of the task force, summarizes the information we have collected, and makes recommendations.


            There are several reasons that the University of Oklahoma is evaluating its grading system at this time.  First, OU will be bringing up a new OU student information system over the next several years.  Because one purpose of this system is to manage and store student academic records, a change in the grading system would be easiest to implement in connection with the development of this new software system.  Second, there have been several past efforts by faculty and administration at OU to change OU’s grading system.  Organized promotion of a change to some form of a plus/minus grading system occurred in 1987 and in 1994.  Most recently, a letter signed by 21 of the chairs and directors of units within the College of Arts and Sciences in April, 2006, requested that a task force be established to “investigate the advisability of adopting a plus/minus grading system for the University of Oklahoma.”  Third, changes from a regular grading system to a plus/minus system have occurred at many universities over the past 15 years.   Within the Big 12, eight universities have some form of plus/minus grading in place, and six of those use only plus/minus grading.  Four universities – OU, OSU, KSU, and Texas A&M – use only regular grading (a summary of the procedures used at Big 12 universities is attached to this document).


            Provost Nancy Mergler and Faculty Senate Chair Roger Frech collaborated in the conceptualization of and recruitment of members for the OU Grading Task Force.  Provost Mergler presented the charge to the task force at our first meeting.  A copy of that charge is attached to this report.


            The task force has dedicated itself to a number of different initiatives.  First, we have interacted with faculty through a number of different channels.  Second, we have interacted with students through a number of different channels.  Third, we have been in contact with other universities who have been involved recently in a similar evaluation process.  Fourth, we have studied the grading procedures and evaluations of those procedures that have occurred at a number of other universities.  The internet provides immediate access to a number of reports (similar to this one) that have been developed at other universities, as well as access to academic research and internal evaluation procedures that have occurred at other universities.  Further, several universities have developed web sites that provide broad links to the efforts by the general university community to understand and implement effective and efficient grading systems.  Fifth, we have engaged in extended discussion of all aspects and features of the grading system at OU, including issues related to technical implementation of grading systems, the politics of the grading system, the psychometric properties of different grading systems, the projected effects of different grading systems, the differential receptivity of different grading systems across different groups within the university (especially, among the faculty and students), and the success/failure of different grading systems at other universities.  Sixth, we have studied the implications of making changes to our grading system within the guidelines defined by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, and the implications of such changes in regards to our relationships with other higher education institutions within Oklahoma.


            Through the concerted study documented in the paragraph above, we have developed several working statements that we believe to be true.  Appreciation of these position statements is necessary before our recommendations – summarized at the end of this section, and presented in detail later in this document – can be properly appreciated and interpreted.  The following working statements provide context for our recommendations:


1) There is no single best, correct, or ideal grading system.  There is a great deal of diversity of grading systems within the U.S. higher education system.


2) Faculty – including OU faculty – can function effectively under a wide variety of grading systems.


3) With exceptions, most faculty at OU and other universities favor using some form of a plus/minus grading system.  With exceptions, most students at OU and other universities oppose changing from a regular grading system to a plus/minus system.


4) There are many beliefs among both students and faculty to support opinions for a preferred grading system.  Many of these beliefs are not issues that actually distinguish grading systems, however.  There are only a very few legitimate differences on which to base a choice between regular grading and plus/minus grading.


5) After reviewing other universities, we find that there is little difference between the two systems on the following dimensions:

a)  At most universities that have switched to a plus/minus system, there has not been a substantial decline in GPA’s. 

            b)  When a plus/minus system is implemented, graduation rates have declined, if at all, by

                        a fraction of a percent. 

c)  Certain forms of the plus/minus system (which will be discussed later in this document) do not affect the 2.0 cutoff used by many academic programs to indicate “good standing.”

            d)   Neither system appears to offer any documented advantages in terms of pedagogy.

e)   Faculty behavior in using the scales is diverse under all grading systems; faculty grading behavior is not (nor should it be) more uniform using one grading scale compared to other grading scales. 

f)  Finally, using a plus/minus system is not an effective way to address the problem of grade inflation (which is a separate concern from the issue of the grading scale used to assign grades).


6) After reviewing other universities, we find that these are the dimensions on which the two systems do differ:

            a)  At most universities that have switched to a plus/minus system, there has been

                        a decline in the number of four-point students under the plus/minus system.  

            b)  The only measurable reduction in GPA’s have occurred at the top end of the scale

                        (and depends in part on how the plus/minus system is implemented at the top


            c)  Student complaints and grade appeals have increased under the plus/minus system.

            d)   Finally, a large majority of faculty believe that they grade more precisely using a

                         plus/minus system. 


7)   Those holding a very strong or polarizing position may not fully understand the issues and tradeoffs involved.   Those who understand the dynamics and various issues associated with the grading system must acknowledge strengths and weaknesses of both types of grading scales.  Further, we believe (and will document support for) the assertions in #1 and #2 above.


8) Given the statement in #7, the choice of grading scales is a judgment call that requires balancing a number of different values and opinions.


9) Although faculty can function effectively under a wide variety of grading methods, there are in fact definable and important differences between the methods.  Careful inspection and study indicates advantages and disadvantages that are relevant in comparing the grading systems.


            Legitimate differences of opinion are represented on our task force.  These mirror those that occur on our campus as a whole, and also appear to match those that have emerged from similar considerations at other universities.  During our last two meetings of the task force, when we discussed our personal opinions about whether OU should change to some form of a plus/minus grading system, those most in favor of such a change were the faculty members, and those most opposed to such a change were the students.  Nevertheless, the students understood the opinions of the faculty that the precision of the evaluation process could be improved using a plus/minus grading system, and the faculty understood the position of the students to be nervous about a change in a system that has so much to do with student success, and that is relatively well-understood in its current form.


            Given the background developed within this section, we present the following recommendations to the Faculty Senate:


1) That OU should begin to develop a process to implement a plus/minus grading system at both the undergraduate and graduate level.  Past similar efforts, the current timing in relation to technical requirements, and faculty opinion support such an implementation.


2) That we should take advantage of the long time lag (approximately four years) during which the new academic records software will be implemented to phase-in gradually features of this grading system.


3) That the full and official implementation of the new grading system (i.e., the timing with which GPA’s will be computed using the plus/minus system) be planned for no earlier than the beginning of academic year 2010/2011.  This will give students time to adjust to the new system, and means that the majority of undergraduate students currently on campus will never have their grades officially recorded and GPA’s computed under the plus/minus system.


4) That several other efforts, described later in this document, be implemented to support students through this process.


5) That OU work with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE) to insure that our system is consistent with the requirements of the OSRHE.


6) That the particular plus/minus system that should be used be one that accounts for certain dynamics of the grading system and that respects certain important features of grading behavior, to most completely optimize the evaluation process for both students and faculty.  Our specific recommendation for plus/minus grading will be explained and justified in detail later in this document, but includes the addition of a C+, B-, B+, and A- to the current five-letter scale, along with a “silent” A+ that will be recorded on the transcript but that will be counted like an A in computing the GPA (capping both individual grades and the GPA at 4.0, consistent with the OSRHE guidelines).   Finally, we recommend that the mapping from the plus/minus system into the number system used for GPA’s be the following: A+=4.0; A=4.0; A- = 3.7; B+ = 3.3; B = 3.0; B- = 2.7; C+ = 2.3; C = 2.0; D = 1.0; F = 0.0


The Task Force Process


            The concept and implementation of the OU Grading Task Force was developed by Provost Nancy Mergler and Faculty Senate Chair Roger Frech in summer, 2006.  The task force chair, Professor Joe Rodgers, was recruited before the fall academic term began, and the members of the task force were appointed early in the semester.  A list of the members of the OU Grading Task Force is attached to this document.   The task force was planned purposively to be a small working committee of members of the OU academic community with diversity of expertise and natural interest in the OU grading system.  The chair is a member of the Psychology department with expertise in testing, measurement, and evaluation methods.  Members of the task force included Professor Mike McInerney (from Botany/Microbiology), Professor Louis Ederington (from Business), and Professor Karl Sievers (from Music); students Matt Burris (an undergraduate student appointed by UOSA), Kyle Abbott (a graduate student from the Graduate Student Senate);  and administrators Cheryl Jorgenson (the Assistant Provost/Director of Institutional Research and Reporting), Rick Skeel (the Director of Academic Records), and Pat Lynch (the Director of Admissions).


            The first meeting occurred on September 26, 2006.  Provost Mergler and Senate Chair Frech attended this meeting to help charge and orient the task force.  Weekly meetings were held for the whole fall semester on Tuesday afternoons from 3:00-4:30 in the Provost’s conference room.  The eleventh and final meeting of the task force occurred on December 12, 2006.  A web site established and maintained out of the provost’s office was set up before the first meeting, and was used to publicize task force activity.  Items posted on the web site included meeting minutes, important documents, and links to other web sites with information about grading procedures.


During most of the meetings, one or more topics were announced for discussion, and members of the task force prepared material and/or opinions to support the discussion.  Topics included the following:


September 26 – Orientation, introductions, get acquainted, identify meeting time

October 3 – Brainstorming to develop a list of advantages of each of the two grading systems,

            the regular system and the plus/minus system; discussion of procedural issues

October 10 – Report by the task force chair on results of web search of what other universities

            are doing and what they have encountered; particular scrutiny of three university

documents, from Wake Forest (a computer model of changes to expect when switching to a plus/minus grading system), the University of North Texas, and Truman State (which maintains a comprehensive web site dedicated to this issue)

October 24 – Report from the Assistant Provost/Director of Institutional Research and Reporting on personal discussions with administrators from the University of Maryland, which conducted a five-year experiment during which they used plus/minus grading but did not implement it within the GPA computation; Review from the chair of items of communication from both faculty and students expressing opinions

October 31 – Review additional information from Clemson similar to that from U. of

            Maryland the previous week; Review and discuss student and faculty feedback

November 7 – Host a student forum, during which six student leaders (including the two members of the task force) visit with the task force about student opinions and


November 14 – Review and discuss student forum and opinions from the previous week

November 21 – Discuss what features a revised grading scale should contain, if we were to

            implement a revision in the OU grading system

November 28 – Review results of a faculty survey of departments/units on campus, who

discussed grading systems at either October or November faculty meetings (30 units reported results); discus which features of the discussion really do distinguish the grading scales

December 5 – Each member of the task force states his/her opinions about the recommendation

            we should offer, based on task force findings and discussion

December 12 – General discussion of what our recommendation should be, and of report-writing, and of timing of circulation of report


            In addition to these meetings, the task force chair presented a report to the Faculty Senate on November 11 summarizing the task force process and presenting results from other universities.  Both faculty and student task force members had discussions with students and faculty.  A web-based survey of student opinion was conducted in November, to which over 1000 students responded, and a resolution opposing the switch was passed by the student congress.   There was also considerable media attention, including interviews with the task force chair by the student newspaper, the Daily Oklahoman, and a reporter from the HUB.


            Finally, on December 20, Provost Mergler, VP for Instruction Paul Bell, Registrar Matt Hamilton, and Professor Joe Rodgers met with the Interim Chancellor of Higher Education, Phil Moss, and some of his staff, to discuss the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education policies in regard regular and plus/minus grading.


This report will be presented to the Faculty Senate in February, 2007, for discussion and potential action at the March, 2007 Faculty Senate meeting.



Grading Models: Regular Grading and Plus/Minus Grading


            There is one basic approach to the “standard grading” model.  In this grading method, there are five possible grades: A, B, C, D, or F (at some universities using standard grading, a grade of E is used in place of F).  These letter grades are almost universally mapped into a numeric scale to compute an overall grade point average (GPA) with A=4.0, B=3.0, C=2.0, D=1.0, and E/F=0.0.  Numeric GPA’s are computed using the standard averaging formula, and are typically expressed to two decimal places (e.g., a 3.48 or a 2.79). 


            In contrast, it is important to understand that plus/minus grading is not a single approach.  There are several dozen variants of plus/minus grading, most of which can be found in use at one or more universities across the U.S.  Most of those variants are minor revisions off of several major distinctions in how plus/minus scales are constructed at different colleges and universities: The major decisions that those considering implementing a plus/minus system must address include the following:


1) Should an A+ be used on the scale?  Should an A+ be used in computing the GPA?


2) Should both pluses and minuses be used, or only a mid-point?  Schools that use only a mid-point variously call that either a plus (resulting in a scale containing A, B+, B, C+, C ...) or refer to it with a slash (resulting in a scale containing A, A/B, B, B/C, C ...).  These are equivalent in terms of the number of grade outcomes, and in terms of their mapping into a numeric scale (A=4.0, B+ or A/B = 3.5, B = 3.0, C+ or B/C = 2.5, etc.).  However, there may some slight psychological differences in how students and faculty perceive these two different approaches, and in how faculty use the two scales.  For example, a B+ may be perceived as a slightly lower grade than an A/B, and faculty behavior in assigning grades could potentially follow such a perception.


3) Should pluses and/or minus be assigned all the way down the grading scale?  There are two basic branches off of this decision, one in which pluses and minuses are only attached down to a grade of C (resulting in a scale with the following outcomes: F, D, C, C+, B-, B, B+, A-, and A), and one in which the pluses and minuses are attached to every letter grade (resulting in a scale with these outcomes: F, F+, D-, D, D+, C-, C, C+, B-, B, B+, A-, A).


4) If both pluses and minuses are to be used, how do they map into a numeric scale?  There appear to be two basic approaches to this mapping, with many universities using each.  In one system, which produces equal numeric intervals between all grading outcomes, A = 4.00, A- =3.67, B+ = 3.33, B = 3.00, B- = 2.67, C+ = 2.33, C = 2.00, etc.  In the other system, in which  there is a bigger gap between the shift down from an A to a B than within the A range, and a bigger shift down from a B to a C than within the B range, etc., the mapping is the following: A = 4.00, A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, B = 3.0, B- = 2.7, C+ = 2.3, C = 2.0, etc.  A few schools use a different range than 0.0-4.0, with similarly idiosyncratic mappings off of their particular range.  One alternative approach uses integers instead of letters (e.g., grades are assigned as values ranging from 0 to 13, which are considered approximately equivalent to the F, F+, D-, ..., A letter grade scale).


5) Finally, in relation to the mapping issue described above, universities differ in how they define the ceiling of this scale.  Universities without an A+ (i.e., in which A=4.0 is the highest possible grade) automatically define a ceiling of 4.0.  At schools with an A+: 

            a)  At one extreme, some universities use the A+, assign it a value of 4.333 or 4.3, and

                        that value goes into the computation of the GPA;

            b) At some schools, the A+ is assigned, but the semester GPA is capped at 4.0;

            c) At some schools, the A+ is assigned, but the overall GPA is capped at 4.0;

            d) At some schools, the A+ is assigned, but has no numeric value different from an A; in

                        other words, the A+ shows up on the transcript, but does not count toward the

                        GPA computation (a so-called “silent” A+)..


            Combinations of these different decisions obviously allow for many different grading scales to exist.  The first position statements in the introduction to this document stated that, “There is no single best, correct, or ideal grading system.”  Our task force is convinced of this position in part because, if there were, there would not be so many variants in use at universities across the U.S.  We certainly believe that there is some combination of conventional wisdom, inertia (which may or may not be wise), and also some misinformation and incorrect beliefs, that help account for the diversity of grading approaches.  But beyond these issues, there are also legitimate differences of expert opinion about the importance of the different features described at the beginning of this section.


            In fact, at all universities, different faculty use a wide variety of grading approaches within individual classrooms.  The particular grading scale used at the university level has little effect on standardizing within-class grading procedures (and in fact such a mandate would be inconsistent with principles of academic freedom).  Even at the level of assignment of course grades, in fact, OU faculty do not behave anywhere close to uniformly.  Some faculty use mostly A’s, and some seldom assign A’s.  Some use the whole grading scale, and some use A’s and B’s almost exclusively.  Under the current regular grading system, some small fraction of faculty still assign and send in course grades using pluses and minuses (the Director of Academic Records Rick Skeel reports that these grades with pluses and minuses have been submitted for many years, with full knowledge by the faculty that the pluses and minuses are stripped off the grades before they are officially recorded).  At other universities that use some form of a plus/minus grading system, some faculty only use the letter grades themselves, without pluses or minuses (with the implication that they do not believe that the precision of grading within their own class requires the extra indicators on the grading measurement scale).  At one university that tracked this process after implementation of a plus/minus system, the number of faculty using the pluses and minuses rose over time from somewhere above 50% immediately after implementation to over 90% after several years.


Predicted Effects of Switching to Plus/Minus Grading


            Based on study of other universities that have documented the process of shifting to a plus/minus grading system, we have generated a set of predictions for what is likely to happen at OU.  These predictions depend on OU following similar patterns to those at other major state universities.  Our primary support for these predications is obtained from evaluations run at the University of Maryland and Clemson, where approximately five-year “grading experiments” were conducted to evaluate the impact of plus/minus grading.  In addition, research at Wake Forest University, and at a number of other U.S. universities, informs our predictions.


            There are a couple of important methodological comments that must precede presentation of predictions.  First, at other universities, the plus/minus system has been compared to the regular grading system by stripping off the pluses and minuses assigned and re-computing GPA’s.  This is only partially satisfactory as a comparison.  Faculty grading may be fundamentally different under the regular grading system and some form of the plus/minus system, and stripping pluses/minuses off of grades and recomputing the GPA assumes that the regular grades resulting are the ones that would have been assigned under a regular grading system.  This assumption is almost certainly tenuous.  Some slight evidence is available to help address this problem.  Universities that have tracked the overall grade distributions before and after the implementation of a plus/minus system help account for this potential source of bias.  These dynamics are discussed below.


            Our predictions for what is likely to happen at OU under a plus/minus grading system are the following:


            1) Student complaints and grade appeals will increase.  Rationale: This has happened at

other universities, and also is predictable on logical grounds.  There are, by definition, more grades close to a grade cut-off under a plus/minus system, and

                        those are the grades that a student might contest with some potential value.

2) There will be fewer 4.0 GPA’s – either within a semester or cumulative.  Rationale:  This prediction is slightly dynamic in relation to the status of an A+.  However, at

                        other universities, even those with an A+ on the scale, more A-‘s are typically

                        assigned than A+’s.  Students with a 4.0 under the regular grading system – those

students for whom, in a measurement sense,  “ceiling effects” are observed – can only go down under other measurement systems.  A 4.0 student under the regular grading system who gets even one A- under a plus/minus system will no longer be a 4.0 student.  There is disagreement about whether it is positive or negative to have fewer 4.0 students.  Faculty and administrators concerned about grade inflation (as well as the psychometric viewpoint concerned about ceiling effects) would consider fewer 4.0 students as a positive.  Students themselves, especially high achieving students who have been working for some time in the context of a regular grading system and the typical number of 4.0 students, would view this shift as negative.  

            3) There will be little effect on graduation rates.  Rationale: At Clemson, the measured

effect of implementing a plus/minus system was a decrease of around .5% comparing rates under regular grading to rates under plus/minus grading.  This

level of fluctuation would likely be exceeded by normal variation in graduation rates.   Especially if pluses and minuses are not implemented below the 2.0 level, this adjustment should be virtually neutral in relation to graduation rates.

            4) There will likely be little change in overall GPA’s (contrary to considerable student

concern that GPA’s will fall dramatically).  Rationale:   The proposal to add

pluses and minuses to the letter grades between C’s and A’s – an addition of four

grading outcomes, increasing the number of assignable grades from five to nine – adds exactly the same number of pluses (B+ and C+) as minuses (A- and B-).  If these new categories were used exactly uniformly, the effect on the overall GPA’s would be negligible (though some individual students would obviously see their GPA’s increase or decrease).  However, at other universities that have implemented the plus/minus system,  faculty used minuses more than pluses.  By itself, this would tend to lead to a measurable decrease in GPA’s.  But there is another, apparently offsetting, dynamic.  Although they assign more minuses than pluses, faculty also assign more grades in the A range (A- and A’s) under the plus/minus system than under the regular grading system, and some of the C grades are moved up to the B range under the plus/minus system compared to the regular system.  In other words, not  all of the A-‘s under the plus/minus system would have been A’s under the regular system; some reflect B’s that faculty move up to an A-.  These two dynamics – faculty giving more minuses than pluses, but assigning more of the higher grades, appears to have been approximately compensatory in the few universities that have evaluated this process, and compared it to patterns from previous semesters before implementation of the plus/minus system.   In general, we have no information to suggest that overall average grades will decline substantially – in fact, at a few universities that have switched to a plus/minus system, grades have increased slightly (though typically such universities have included a measured A+ on the grading scale).  We do note, however, that individual grades will increase or decrease, in systematic and fair ways.  A student who routinely scores in the lower part of the B range (i.e., who get mostly B’s under the regular grading system, but who will be assigned many B-‘s under the plus/minus system) will see their GPA go down, whereas another student who also got mostly B’s under the regular grading system, but who is consistently at the top of the B range, will see their GPA go up with the addition of B+’s to the assignable grades.

            5)  No other universities that we have studied which have changed from a regular grading

system to a plus/minus system have reported a change in the number of students

qualifying for national scholarships and awards.  We surmise that this is not likely to be a major problem at OU.


Campus Opinions


Unsolicited Opinions


            At other campuses that have considered and/or implemented plus/minus grading, the majority of students have typically opposed the process and the majority of faculty have typically been in favor.  OU opinions have been similar to those general trends.  At OU, the establishment of the task force to consider changes in OU’s grading procedures was met with intense interest from many different parts of the OU campus. 


            The provost’s office, the chair of the task force, and individual members of the task force received many unsolicited letters, phone calls, e-mails and personal comments from both students and faculty.  It may be unnecessary to state that when someone sends an unsolicited statement of opinion, it is likely to reflect a strong opinion.  Student correspondence through this channel was, almost without exception, expressing concern or disagreement with the possibility of changing from regular to some form of plus/minus grading.  However, many of those student letters/e-mails were based on incorrect or at least questionable assumptions or beliefs.  For example, some thought the decision to make the change had already been made; some based their position on the belief that GPA’s would immediately and necessarily decline; some suggested that scholarships would automatically be harder to get and harder to keep; and some suggested that a plus/minus system would make getting jobs or admission to graduate school more difficult.   Possible explanations for these negative student opinions will be explored later in this section.  Unsolicited faculty opinions were somewhat more evenly split between those supporting and those opposing a change to plus/minus grading, with supporting faculty slightly outnumbering those opposing the change.  Those opposing the change based that position on increased grade appeals; the difficulty of standardizing grading across many sections; and the belief that grading is not a precise enough process to justify the additional measurement outcomes afforded by the plus/minus system.  Those favoring the change almost without exception based their support on the increased grading precision offered by a plus/minus system.


            There is one example that appears to support changing to a plus/minus system that recurred in faculty communication, and that in fact several students also discussed and seemed to appreciate.  In this example, two students are compared who have been at opposite ends of the B range under a regular grading system.  Suppose that the B range is from 80 to 89, and at the end of the semester, one of the students has an 81 course average, and one has an 89 course average.  Some also include in this example a third student who had a 90 average, only one point higher than the 89 average, and who would receive an A under the regular grading system. Most faculty and students alike believe that there is substantial inequity in assigning the same grade to the first two students, when the third student got a whole letter grade higher than the second student.  Under a plus/minus system, the assigned grades would be a B-, a B+, and an A-, respectively, which appear to be much more equitable grade assignments.


            Unsolicited opinions from students and faculty were routinely read and discussed before the task force in our weekly meetings.  A folder with those written communications was kept, and passed around the table at task force meetings.


Assessing Student Opinion


            The task force held a student forum at which six student leaders (including the two task force members who were students), four undergraduate students and two graduate students, met with us for almost two hours.  Prior to the meeting, an orientation sheet was circulated to the students (a copy of which is attached to this report).  This orientation sheet contained two sections, one was “15 points of information,” the other was “10 discussion questions.”


The University of Oklahoma Student Association passed a resolution opposing changing to a plus/minus grading system.  The resolution passed unanimously.  The resolution that was passed is included in the appendix.


            Finally, a volunteer online opinion survey was made available through the HUB, a student online information service.  1081 students voted between 11/12/06 and 11/19/06, on the question, “Should OU implement a +/- grading system?”  149 (14%) voted “yes,” 739 (68%) voted “no,” 110 (10%) voted “doesn’t matter,” and 83 (8%) voted “no opinion.” 


Assessing Faculty Opinion


            During at least two periods in OU’s recent history, the faculty and/or administration supported an initiative to develop plus/minus grading.  This history is summarized in the February 14, 2000 minutes of the OU Faculty Senate: “Last month, the Senate asked the Executive Committee to look into the status of an expanded grading scale ... .  Prof. Benson commented that this issue had been addressed by the Faculty Senate at least twice before.  The last time was in 1987.  At that time, in a Senate survey of the faculty, 57% favored an expanded scale.  The Faculty Senate approved a plus/minus scale by a close vote of 23 to 19.  The recommendation was rejected by then Provost Joan Wadlow, who thought there was insufficient justification.  In spring 1994, the Graduate Council approved a plus/minus scale, presumably just for graduate level courses.  According to the provost’s office, this proposal is in the queue at the Department of Computing and Telecommunications Services.”


            Most recently, 21 of the chairs and directors in the College of Arts and Sciences signed a letter sent to OU higher administration asking for the creation of a task force to “investigate the advisability of adopting a plus/minus grading system for the University of Oklahoma. ... we acknowledge that undertaking such a change deserves careful study, but we also believe that adopting some variant of a plus/minus system allows instructors to make finer distinctions about student performance than the current system permits.”


            Our task force administered a process designed to collect faculty opinion at the unit level, and also to insure that the opinion was informed by both information and discussion.  The provost’s office in early October sent to all chairs and directors on the OU campus a request for units to discuss grading systems at their October or November faculty meeting.  Accompanying this request was an information sheet similar to the one circulated to students before the student forum, and a unit-level survey form that chairs/directors filled out after the faculty meeting (a copy of which is attached to this report).  30 surveys were returned, and specific results of that survey are included as an attachment to this report.  Of the 29 units whose chairs/directors responded, 20 units (69%) favored the plus/minus system, 7 (24%) favored the regular grading system, and 2 (7%) were neutral.  On a five-point scale with 1=”strongly prefer regular grading” and 5=”strongly prefer plus/minus grading,” the distribution of these responses were: 1 – 3 units; 2 – 4 units; 3 – 2 units; 4 – 9 units; 5 – 11 units.  The median response was a 4 with a mean of 3.7 and a standard deviation of 1.4.  Chairs/ directors also included comments on the survey form, which were read and studied by members of the task force.  A copy of the Excel file with these results is included at the end of this report.



Reasons for Faculty and Student Opinion


            The reasons for the apparent polarity of opinions by students and faculty is, in some ways clear and obvious, and in other ways is rather confusing.  The fact that students and faculty would disagree is not on the face of it surprising, because they fill completely different (and in some sense, opposite) roles within the grading system.  This opposite (or at least very different) status is reflected in the words used to describe the two sides of the process: Faculty give grades to students, who receive their grades each semester.


            Understanding the reason that the majority of  faculty support a plus/minus system is relatively straightforward.  Almost without exception, faculty (both at OU and other institutions) point to their support for a plus/minus system as deriving from the increased precision of a grading scale that adds more grading categories than the regular five-point letter grading system has.  Faculty often note the inequity of awarding the same grade to two students who have disparate performance within a class (e.g., an 81 and an 89 average both receiving a B, as in the example cited above).  Faculty who favor the plus/minus system also often note that their colleagues who don’t feel they grade with enough precision to justify the addition of more points on the grading scale can choose to use only the letter-grades and to ignore the pluses and minuses (as somewhere around 10% of faculty at one university who evaluated the process still did after five years of using the plus/minus system).


            It is rather more elusive to identify the primary or several reasons that students are so opposed to any variant of the plus/minus system.  Correcting inaccuracies in justification of opposition to the plus/minus system seems to do little to the strength of opinion.  For example, informing a student that implementing a plus/minus system may not result in lower GPA’s, and could even raise in theory GPA’s, does not seem to change the strength of opposition to implementing a plus/minus system.  Our task force has identified two different processes that probably contribute to student opposition.


            The first explanation begins with the belief that no one (including faculty members) especially likes to be evaluated.  Being evaluated is stressful, and many would observe that negative evaluations hurt more than positive evaluations help.  Especially in a grade-inflated system in which the modal OU grade is an A, and by far the majority of grades are A’s or B’s, a so-called “good grade” is expected.  The only surprise that exists for many students within this system is a negative one.  To add an additional level of scrutiny – which is what a plus/minus system amounts to, in the opinion of many students – may be simply to make a stress-inducing  system appear to be even more stressful.


            The second explanation that has been discussed by our task force is that students invest   effort, discussion, communication with other students, and overall thought in understanding the grading system as it currently stands.  There is a great deal of conventional wisdom about grades passed on from previous generations of students (including parents, older siblings, friends who have already been to college, etc.).  Students who feel that they have mastered and understand how to optimize their outcomes (learning, evaluation, and even balancing studies with extracurricular activities) may feel that this well-studied and well-understood system will shift out from under them if a new system is implemented. 


            We note that we have found very little information from other universities that have implemented plus/minus grading about how negative student opinion has been handled.  Without saying this explicitly, many universities seem to take the position that the faculty and administration feels the plus/minus system will be better for the university, and so it will be implemented despite student opposition.  We have in our files examples of columns from students at such universities that are very negative about the process and about the prospect of changing to a plus/minus system.


            The task force believes that a plus/minus system should be developed at OU.  But we also believe that students should play an active role in the process, and that the implementation should be managed in such a way to account for student stress and student concerns.  In this regard, the process should include the following:


1) There should be long and carefully organized process during which a plus/minus system is phased in, so that students and faculty will have substantial experience using the system before it becomes official and final;


2) The particular form of a plus/minus system that is being recommended is one that should have relatively little effect on average GPA and that should not have any substantial effect on graduation rates.


3)  We don’t expect a negative impact on either internal or external scholarships.  If such an impact should develop, which resulted in some students (especially at the upper end of the grade distribution) being negatively impacted, we encourage OU’s higher administration to make funds available to help support students so affected.


4) We propose an information campaign to circulate correct and factual information to students, and faculty, and to respond to the many inaccuracies that circulate through the student and faculty networks.  Examples include the information that the average GPA’s are unlikely to drop dramatically, that the OU system is highly committed to supporting its scholarship students; that the majority of major state universities within the U.S. use a plus/minus system, and that a plus/minus system is primarily motivated by an effort to increase fairness and equity within the grading system.


5) We propose that OU students play an active and ongoing role in evaluating the change to a plus/minus grading system.  The two students on our task force have played a critical and instrumental role in the conduct of task force business.  We propose that students be included at all levels in the continuation of whatever grading process and grading changes are implemented at OU.


Logical and Legitimate Criteria on which to Base Recommendations


            Opinions in regards the OU grading system are strongly held.  There are a number of reasons that are commonly stated on which opinions are based that are used to support both staying with the traditional grading system and switching to a plus/minus system.  As part of our task force activity, we attempted to define which reasons were reasonable, logical, fact-based opinions.  By implication, and by our observation, a number of beliefs that were offered as the basis for taking positions and stating opinions were not, in fact, based on correct assumptions or legitimate foundation (though they were almost universally offered and held in honest good faith).  It seemed important to us to identify and separate the most important and legitimate reasons in support of regular grading, and in support of plus/minus grading.


            We devoted parts of two task force meetings to separating out these two types of opinions, and developed a document summarizing our position.  The following statements are summaries from that document.


            One of the many challenges in developing a coherent grading approach is to filter the real issues from the ones that apparently matter, but that ultimately won’t.  There are many reasons given by proponents of both regular grading and plus/minus grading to justify their position that do not, in fact, distinguish these methods.    Two examples are offered before we present a number of these in details.  First, many faculty believe that plus/minus grading may be an effective deterrent to grade inflation.  There is no evidence that this is the case.  Second, both faculty and students often cite the goal of using the grading scale that supports the learning environment most effectively.  This goal is legitimate, and properly motivated.  However, it is, as far as we can tell, a non-issue.  The few studies of this in the empirical research literature have not been able to distinguish differential pedagogical value (see, for example, McClure and Spector’s 2005 article in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, titled “Plus/minus Grading and Motivation:  An Empirical Study of Student Choice and Performance,” which found that student motivation did not differ between regular and plus/minus grading in Economics classes at one university).   We have found no theoretical or empirical evidence that either method is preferable in terms of teaching/learning the material.


            The following are statements that are often cited as important, but which we believe are either incorrect or are not able to distinguish the regular and plus/minus systems:


1)  Implementing plus/minus grading will curb grade inflation.  Actually, using a plus/minus system will not achieve this goal.  (Note:  Neither system is able, naturally, to affect grade inflation at any substantial level;  other innovations than grading scale adjustments would be necessary to achieve this goal).


2)  Implementing a plus/minus grading system will likely cause substantial reduction in overall mean GPAs.  In fact, this has not happened at other universities, and is unlikely to happen at OU. (Note:  At other universities, GPAs tend to stay relatively stable in the short term, and may go down slightly on average in the long term; these mean reductions are usually in range of .001 to .01 GPA units, which is a relatively negligible change;  however, there is potentially differential impact across the scale.  At the individual level, some student’s GPA’s are likely to go up slightly, some may go down slightly, and most will stay very close to the same under the two systems.  Adjustments would appear to be “fair” in most cases, with, for example, students consistently receiving low B’s seeing their GPA’s go down slightly whereas students who consistently receive high B’s will see their GPA’s go up slightly).


3)  Implementing plus/minus grading will likely result in a hybrid system in which different faculty use different approaches to grading.  (Note: This statement is almost certainly true, but it does not distinguish the grading systems.  Faculty use a hybrid system under regular grading as well:  some use D’s and F’s, some don’t;  some use C’s as an average grade, some use C’s as an approximately failing grade, etc.;  under the plus/minus systems, the same is true;  we see no reason to believe that either system will be preferable in this sense to the other);


4)  Scholarship students will be damaged by a plus/minus system.  (Note:  Other universities have made this transition without apparent damage to scholarship recipients;  university administrators are typically eager to support and encourage scholarship students, so this is not likely to be a problem);


5)  Graduation rates will go down.  (Note:  One university estimated a less than .05% reduction in graduation rates;  this may be a real reduction, or may not, but in either case is very slight).


6)  Students will be advantaged/disadvantaged by a plus/minus system in applying for graduate school, employment, etc.  (Note:  This is an issue on which we have spent a great deal of time and discussion.  We have communicated with several graduate professional programs – e.g., the OU Veterinary School, the OU Law School, the OU School of Medicine – in this discussion; there is neither consensus among experts nor obvious logistical issues that orient us strongly one way or the other in regards this issue.  It is important to recognize that many professional schools, in particular in medicine and law, norm applicant grades anyway, so that most differences between the two systems become transparent in the application process.)


7)  One system or the other is better at supporting pedagogy.  (Note:  There is a very small amount of research on this topic, and that research does not support either system as being better to promote student learning.  Hopefully, more research on this topic will be conducted in the near future.)


            The following are statements that we do believe are correct, or are issues that are important in choosing between a regular grading system and a plus/minus system:


1)  The plus/minus system provides a finer-tuned grading instrument that can increase the precision of grading, compared to regular grading.  (Note:  This is the widely cited and primary issue driving faculty’s interest in using plus/minus grading.  Many faculty do measure much more precisely than the regular grading scale supports.  The diversity of faculty grading methods means that some faculty strongly require a plus/minus system to do their grading effectively, whereas to others it matters very little.  A psychometrically-oriented faculty member at OU reported that he computed the standard error of measurement in his final grading scale to be under 2%; in other words, he could reliably distinguish an 88 course average from an 86 course average as indicating approximately a standard deviation of difference on his measurement scale.  This computation implies that two students with 89 and 81 course averages in this professor’s class, who each would be assigned a B under the regular grading system, differ by over four standard deviation units on this measurement scale.  Assigning them the same grade would be conservatively equivalent to asserting that two college age males who were 5'8" tall and 6'4" tall should be assigned the same height value.  It seems important to note that the overall GPA system contains substantial precision; GPA’s are typically reported to two decimal places – .e.g, 2.87 or 3.44 -- and the accumulation of many classes and semesters of grades justifies such precision.  If overall GPA’s were suddenly all rounded and reported only to the nearest integer – overall GPA’s would be reported only as 4.0, 3.0, 2.0 – it should be obvious that a great deal of information valuable to graduate schools and employers, information collected at substantial cost by the university evaluation system, would be discarded.  Many faculty believe that the same is true, at a more local level, of the regular grading scale.)


2)  Student complaints/challenges to grades will increase.  (Note: Empirical evidence suggests that implementation of plus/minus grading will have this result.  Our task force believes that gratuitous complaints are not good, and can damage communication quality between students and faculty;  however, some challenges are legitimate, can sharpen grading quality, and are not in and of themselves negative.)


3)  Grades will go down among the highest scoring students.  (Note:  Students with a 4.0 can only go one direction, obviously, assuming no A+ that earns GPA credit exists;  further, there is likely to be a differential effect of implementing a plus/minus system, such that the highest graded students are the ones likely to see their GPA’s drop somewhat.  This is, in fact, a slight response to grade inflation and may be perceived as a positive effect by some and as negative by others.  We note that a 3.94 will still be considered an outstanding GPA within any system, even if it is not a 4.0.)



Recommendations and Rationale


            The Executive Summary, the first section of this report, gives the basic recommendation that we are presenting to the Faculty Senate.  In this section, we repeat that recommendation, and then provide a rationale for each component.


            The OU Grading Task Force recommends to the Faculty Senate, and then ultimately to the OU higher administration, the following:


1) That OU should begin to develop a process to implement a plus/minus grading system at both the undergraduate and graduate level.  Past similar efforts, the technical requirements, and faculty opinion appears to support such an implementation.


2) That OU should take advantage of the long time lag (approximately four years) during which the new academic records software will be implemented to phase-in features of this grading system gradually.


3) That the full and official implementation of the new grading system (i.e., the timing with which GPA’s will be computed using the plus/minus system) be planned for no earlier than the beginning of academic year 2010/2011 (which means that no undergraduate students currently on campus will have their grades officially recorded and GPA’s computed under the plus/minus system).


4) That several other efforts, described later in this document, be implemented to support students through this process.


5) That OU work with the OSRHE office to insure that our system is consistent with the regents’ requirements.


6) That the particular plus/minus system that should be used be one that accounts for certain dynamics of the grading system and that respects certain important features of grading behavior, to most completely optimize the evaluation process for both students and faculty.  Our specific recommendation for plus/minus grading will be explained and justified in detail later in this document, but includes the addition of a C+, B-, B+, and A- to the current five-letter scale, along with a “silent” A+ that will be recorded on the transcript but that will be counted like an A in computing the GPA (capping both individual grades and the GPA at 4.0, consistent with the OSRHE guideline).  Finally, we recommend that the mapping from the plus/minus system into the number system used for GPA’s be the following: A+=4.0; A=4.0; A- = 3.7; B+ = 3.3; B = 3.0; B- = 2.7; C+ = 2.3; C = 2.0; D = 1.0; F = 0.0


We follow these recommendations with paragraphs providing the rationale for each.


            In regard the first point above, we find the most compelling opinion – within a domain in which opinions are held strongly, but not always developed in logical and systematic ways – to be the statement coming from the majority of the OU faculty suggesting that they feel that they can do their teaching job more effectively with a plus/minus grading system.  Most of the faculty who are critical of the plus/minus system are accommodated by the potential to use only the letter grades within the plus/minus system; in other words, the regular grading system can be viewed as a special case of the plus/minus grading system, and so in a sense supports faculty who wish to use either system.  A legitimate cause of concern by faculty critics – and perhaps the biggest technical disadvantage of implementing a plus/minus system –  is the wish by some faculty to avoid the increased challenges and grade appeals that are likely to accompany implementation of a plus/minus grading system.


            In elaboration of the second and third points above, we note that the long lag-time associated with the implementation of OU’s new academic records system – which may take up to four years to fully implement – is almost certainly an advantage for the effective implementation of a new grading system.  This timing would allow both current and future students to have a long period in which to understand and develop appropriate student strategies and responses to the new grading system.  This long time lag allows the whole OU system to phase in a new grading system over a long period of time. 


There are many uncertainties in timing, implementation, and overall development of the new OU student information system, which will eventually be used to record grades and computed GPA’s.  Without more knowledge of how this system will be implemented (including knowing which system will be used), we can only make educated guesses about how a plus/minus grading system will be implemented.  The following recommendations reflect one possible implementation model;  both major and minor adjustments in this type of approach are likely in the context of pragmatic issues that arise over the next several years.


We recommend the following potential steps in the implementation of a plus/minus system on the OU campus:


a) OU should begin allowing faculty to submit plus/minus grades almost immediately (possibly as soon as the fall, 2007 semester), with the understanding that no pluses or minuses will be recorded on a student’s permanent records (i.e., all A- and A’s would be recorded as A’s, all B-, B, and B+’s would be recorded as B’s, and all C and C+’s would be recorded as C’s).  This process will incur some cost to Academic Records, which will have to strip the plus/minus grades.

            b) Concurrently with this implementation, a working group consisting of students,

            faculty, and administrators should be constituted to collect and respond to student

             problems that arise in relation to the new grading system.

            c) After the first full year, perhaps during fall of 2008, an evaluation team similar in

composition to the task force – including faculty, students, and administrators involved in

institutional research and academic records, and including some but not all of the members of the working group described in #2 – should carefully meet to discuss, revise, and further develop plans for future implementation of a plus/minus grading system. 

d) The next step would be to record, for a full academic year (probably 2008-2009, and  possibly also through the 2009-2010 academic year) the pluses and minuses on the student transcripts, but not to use them in the computation of the GPA’s.

            e) The evaluation of this system should include a working group and/or task force similar

to the one in letter c) that would evaluate grade distributions under each model, and would further revise plans for future implementation.

f) Finally, the plus/minus system should be implemented in full.  If this occurs no earlier than the academic year 2010-2011 or later, OU undergraduate students currently on campus during the spring semester 2007, when this report is being written, who finish in four years will not have the plus/minus system count toward the computation of their GPA.  The majority of all students on campus when this report is being written will graduate before the projected complete implementation of the plus/minus grading system. 


            In regard the fourth point above, our grading system must obviously be consistent with the rules and regulations of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.  At this time, no other state-supported institutions (as far as we know) operate with a plus/minus system.  There is some interpretational doubt as to the status of our recommendations within the OSRHE system; we have heard administrators state well-supported positions that our proposal is consistent with the regent’s policy (as long as it doesn’t include an A+ that is counted toward the GPA), and also that there may be some potential inconsistency with the policy as stated.  Given these interpretational issues, we are proceeding in good faith with our recommendation for what we believe to be the best grading system for OU, the one that allows OU faculty to do their job in the best way possible.  We recommend that OU administrators and faculty work with the OSRHE office to further understand the intentions – and perhaps even to sharpen the wording – of the regents’ policy.  We obviously hope that the resolution is that OSRHE will support the plus/minus grading system as consistent with their policy, and will recognize and agree with our rationale for recommending it.  It seems important in this consideration that governing boards all over the U.S. have supported other major state universities to adopt the plus/minus system.  We believe this report identifies several reasons that the trend is in the direction of plus/minus grading.


            The fifth point above states the particular version of the plus/minus system that we are recommending.  We offer the reminder that there are many different variants of the plus/minus system.  The one we recommend – which is in effect at a number of major state universities across the country, and is one of the most popular versions (we believe for important reasons) – is relatively simple, easy to understand, and consistent with the stated goals of faculty.  We choose not to recommend pluses and minuses for grades below a C for two reasons.  First, not many grades below C’s are given, and for those that are it may not matter a great deal whether the plus or minus is attached (e.g., we doubt that many students – or their parents – will be impressed that the student pulled their D up to a D+).   Second, the C-average (a 2.0) currently stands in many programs as an important line of demarcation between successful completion of a program and failure; by stopping the plus/minus system at a C, this line can stand without adjustment.  We choose not to implement the A+ as a portion of the GPA computation because of the OSRHE cap on the GPA at 4.0 and because of the common practice of rescaling GPA’s above a 4.0 against the new cap, which can disadvantage students.  For example, a student with a 4.1 in which A+’s count as 4.3 may have their GPA rescaled, by external processes so that the 4.1 counts as a 3.81, which partially obviates the value of using the A+ in the first place.  Other systems that allow an A+, and count it in the GPA, but with a cap during a semester and/or in the overall GPA, appear more complex to us than their value supports.  We do, however, support faculty giving A+’s, which should be recorded on the transcript but not counted in the GPA computation (i.e., “silent” A+’s).  A number of universities use this mechanism as a way to allow faculty to signal outstanding performance (and students can state their A+’s before graduate schools or employers, even though they don’t count in the GPA computation; thus, an A+ in two advanced calculus courses might matter to a graduate admissions committee in a Math Department, even though the points didn’t show up in the GPA computation).  Finally, we recommend that the mapping from the plus/minus system into the number system used for GPA’s be the following: A+=4.0; A=4.0; A- = 3.7; B+ = 3.3; B = 3.0; B- = 2.7; C+ = 2.3; C = 2.0; D = 1.0; F = 0.0.  This numerical mapping, which appears to be the more common of the two potential approaches, creates bigger intervals between letter grades than within the pluses and minuses of letter grades.




Although we believe the position stated in the introduction of this document – that “faculty including OU faculty – can function effectively under a wide variety of grading systems” -- we also feel that OU should adopt the best possible grading system.  We believe that many faculty are disadvantaged in doing their most effective job of evaluating students by features of the regular grading system, and that a plus/minus system at least partially responds to some of those weaknesses (with only slight costs).  We also are convinced of the wide base of support among OU faculty for implementing a plus/minus grading system.


In addition, we also believe the statement early in this document that “there is no single best, correct, or ideal grading system.”  The one we recommend has advantages of being relatively simple, easy to understand, easy to use, and to contain within it the regular grading scale as a special case.  Especially, it responds to faculty goals to have more precision available within the grading system.


Next, we are very aware of the potential for concern and negative responses from students over the implementation of a plus/minus grading system.  We hope students recognize that the task force has taken great account of their concerns.  We have developed a number of procedures that show up within this document to provide ongoing student input to the process, and to help respond to many of those concerns.


Finally, we note for the record that developing the optimal grading system for a university community involves fitting one moving process into another moving process.  Innovations in grading systems, the changing popularity of certain systems across the state and the country, and the dynamics of how a certain system interacts with specific features of a campus’ environment can motivate potential changes in the grading scale, just as there will be interesting, important, and necessary changes within the OU academic environment that can influence approaches to grading.  Either or both of these processes can result in the need for revisions in OU’s grading scale in the future.  We feel comfortable and positive about the proposal we offer in this document as satisfying the current demands and requirements of the OU academic environment. 



Respectfully submitted, The OU Grading Task Force




Attachment 1.  Charge to the Task Force by Provost Nancy Mergler





            The University of Oklahoma – Norman Campus is beginning a four year process to migrate the current academic student record system into a new relational database.  One of the most important components of this relational database will be the recording of student grades, within the contest of a university-defined grading system.  Because this software transition is one of the most complex any university handles, the choice of grading system will likely endure for the next quarter century.  It seems appropriate that the current grading system be carefully evaluated in relation to other systems.  Therefore, this taskforce should:


            1.  Review the grading scales currently in use at public research universities and

recommend what grading scale system will be built into the new academic student records system*.  The recommendation should be presented to the Faculty Senate, Norman Campus for their endorsement.


            2.  Continue to assist the Senior Vice President & Provost and the Student Record

System Implementation Team for the new student records system with informing the Faculty and Students as to the implications of any transition in grading systems throughout the four year implementation.


Nancy Mergler, Senior Vice President & Provost, O-Norman Campus


* The College of Law has a separate grading system and will not be included in

this review.


Attachment 2: 


Summary of Grading Procedures at the Big 12 Universities


Compiled for the University of Oklahoma Grading Task Force in September, 2006, by Joe Rodgers, Task Force Chair

(Procedure:  Online search)


                                                Grading System              Comments


Baylor University                            A, B+, B, C+, C, …        Only pluses


Iowa State University                A, A-, B+, B, B-, …


Kansas State University                A, B, C, D, F


Oklahoma State University           A, B, C, D, F


Texas A&M University                 A, B, C, D, F


Texas Tech University                  A, A-, B+, B, B-, …


University of Colorado                 A, A-, B+, B, B-, …


University of Kansas                 Some regular                   Program level

                                                Some +/-

University of Missouri               Both, +/- UG                  Opposite of Texas

Regular Grad

University of Nebraska              A, A-, B+, B, B-, …       Feb ’01 change to

    +/- system

University of Oklahoma                A, B, C, D, F


University of Texas                   Both, regular UG             Opposite of Mo.

                                                          +/- Grad


Big 12 Institutional Summary:   8 have some form of +/- grading;  5 pure

                     7 have some form of reg. grading;  4 pure


Attachment 3:


Members of the Grading Scale Task Force


Kyle Abbott, Graduate Student Senate, 360-5486,

Matt Burris, interim Chair of Academic Affairs, Undergraduate

student appointed by UOSA,

Louis Ederington, Finance, 5-5591,

Cheryl Jorgenson, Institutional Research and Reporting, 5-4962,

Pat Lynch, Admissions, 5-2252,

Mike McInerney, Botany & Microbiology, 5-6050,

Joe Rodgers, Psychology, 5-4591, (Task Force Chair), 5-4591

Karl Sievers, Music,

Rick Skeel, Academic Records, 5-2012,


Attachment 4: 


Points of Information and Discussion Questions, Student Forum,

Grading Scale Task Force

November 7, 2006, Provost’s Conference Room


Fifteen Points of Information

1.  If the OU system were to change, it would likely be several years before a new system would

be fully implemented.

2.  The majority of major universities in the U.S. are currently using a plus/minus system, and

many of those have recently moved from the regular grading system to a plus/minus


3.  Some  have considered changing to a plus/minus system, and have decided not to do so.

4.  The majority of Oklahoma universities use the regular grading system, including OU and


5.  There is a great deal of information on the web about advantages/disadvantages of each

            system;  Google “plus/minus” (or other relevant keywords) to access a large body of


6.  In most universities that have carefully evaluated their grading system, the majority of

            students prefer the regular grading system, and the majority of faculty prefer the

            plus/minus system.

7.  The major reason that students give for preferring the regular system is concern that GPA’s

            will drop if a plus/minus system is implemented.

8.  The two major reasons that faculty give for preferring the plus/minus system is the increased

precision the plus/minus system gives to the grading process, and helping curb grade


9.  There are many variants of the plus/minus system.  Those include: a system with a plus/minus

added to each letter;  one with a plus/minus added for C’s and above;  one in which only

plusses are added;  some include an A+, and some don’t;  some add the pluses/minuses in

administering grades, but don’t figure them into the GPA;  many others.

10.  Some plus/minus systems would lead to increases in GPA’s, rather than decreases.

11.  There is potential for both grade inflation and deflation – they can go in either direction,

            under either system.

12. Universities that have considered the grading system have not mandated to faculty how

use the grading within a given class – that’s a faculty prerogative.  For example, in

universities with the plus/minus system, some faculty choose to use only the letter grades.

13.  Some universities use different grading scales at the undergraduate and graduate level.

14.  The Grading Scale Task Force is the first in several levels that would have to approve a


15.  The Grading Scale Task Force is committed to a plan that responds appropriately to the

            many different issues and concerns from both students and faculty.  Soliciting input and

            information is part of that process.  Thanks for contributing to that discussion!




Ten Discussion Questions for Students Attending the Student Forum

1.  Which grading scale do you think you would personally prefer?  Why?

2.  Which grading scale would be best for OU students in general?  Why?

3.  Besides potential reduction in GPA’s, are there other major concerns?

4.  Should there be different grading scales for undergraduate and graduate students?

5.  Which variant(s) of the plus/minus system would be best for OU students?

6.  Should there be A+’s?  Should they count in computing the GPA?

7.  What outside-the-university implications are there for regular grading?  For plus/minus


8.  How would you implement a change, if it were to happen?  All at once?  Gradually? Timing?

9.  Who are the relevant constituencies for whom the grading scale at OU matters?

10. How can we best collect information about student opinion?



Attachment 5:  University of Oklahoma Student Association resolution:








Title:     A Congressional Resolution Concerning the Changing of the Grading Scale at the University of Oklahoma


Whereas:          The University of Oklahoma’s Senior Vice-President and Provost Nancy

                        Mergler has commissioned a Taskforce to investigate the potential change

                        Away from the current grading system, and;


Whereas:          One of the potential grading systems which is being considered by the taskforce is the plus/minus grading system which would change the way GPAs are calculated, and;


Whereas:          This potential change in grading scale could cause a number of potential problems, including, but not limited to:  1) potential increases in Academic Appeals, 2) potential lowering of GPAs on average over a student’s career, 3) increased difficulty of evaluating in-state transfer students, 4) grading of music performances or other more subjective material in a finely tuned way, 5) other assorted and unforeseen problems, and;


Whereas:          The University of Maryland, in a study of the entering class of 2002 through the Fall semester of 2005, found that on the whole, the majority of students would be negatively effected by a change in the grading scale, and;


Whereas:          The switch in grading systems will put more emphasis on making grades, and with more dividing lines for grades, could potentially increase the stress and pressure on students to make certain grades, and;


Whereas:          Any negative impact on grading could affect a student’s ability to earn or maintain scholarships which require certain grades, and;


Whereas:          The implementation of the plus/minus system has created tension and conflict amongst faculty and students in many cases where it has been implemented, and this could create problems in the learning environment of a university, and;


Whereas:          Many students at the University of Oklahoma have voiced a negative opinion of the proposed change in the grading system.



Let it therefore be resolved:


Section 1          The University of Oklahoma Student Association asks the Provost and the Grading Scale Taskforce not to adopt any version of the plus/minus grading system which would in any way jeopardize or negatively effect the undergraduate students at the University.


Section 2          Copies of this bill to be sent to:


            Nancy Mergler, Vice-President and Provost

            Dr. Joe Rodgers, Grading Scale Taskforce Chairman

            Ms. Cheryl Jorgenson, Assistant Provost and Director of Institutional Research and Reporting

            Ms. Patricia Lynch, Director, Office of Admissions

            Mr. Richard Skeel, Director, Office of Academic Records

            Dr. Louis Ederington, Professor of Finance

            Dr. Michael McInerney, Professor of Botany/Microbiology

            Mr. Kyle Abbot, Graduate Student Senate


Author: Matthew Burris


Cosponsors:     Matthew Gress


Submitted on a motion by: 


Action taken by Student Congress: 


Verified by Chair of Student Congress:                                                        Date:              


Attachment 6:  Faculty Unit-level Information Sheet and Survey Form


Grading Scale Task Force Information Sheet – For OU Chairs and Directors

Distributed October 18, 2006

This fall, under the auspices of the Faculty Senate and the Provost’s office, a new Task Force is considering whether OU should change our grading scale.  Our current system – the regular A, B, C, D, F system – is now used at a minority of other major universities.  The more popular system is the plus/minus grading scale, which has a number of different slight variants off the typical A, A-, B+, B, B-, … scale.  The OU Grading Scale task force is hoping to provide a recommendation to the Faculty Senate by early 2007.  As part of this effort, we are asking Chairs and Directors to devote a part of a faculty meeting – as soon as possible, and preferably in October or November – to discussion of this issue with your faculty.  This information sheet provides some background information, and some discussion questions.


Background information:

Many universities have recently changed from the regular to the plus/minus system.  Some have considered the change, and decided not to do so.


In the Big 12, eight schools have some form of plus/minus grading implemented (and five only use this method); seven have some form of regular grading implemented (and four of those use only this method).   Most Oklahoma universities (including OSU) use a regular grading system.


OU is changing our records software system over the next few years;  if we’re going to make a change, now would be a good time to do so.


Typically expressed advantages of plus/minus grading:

It gives faculty a more precise tool to measure student performance.

Faculty don’t have to use the pluses and minuses, but have the option.

Puts schools in line with the majority of other major universities.


Typically expressed advantages of regular grading:

Simple and easy to use.  If it’s not broken, why fix it?

Facilitates transfer within Oklahoma, where the regular grading scale is typical.

Students worry that switching to a plus/minus system may reduced their GPA.


Potential Discussion Questions for a Faculty Meeting:

1)  Have any of your faculty used a plus/minus system in the past?  What did they think?

2)  Given the option, would you use or ignore the pluses and minuses if they were available?

3)  What advantages do you see to staying with the regular system?  What disadvantages?

4)  What advantages do you see to switching systems?  What disadvantages?

5)   Sub-issues with the plus/minus system include whether to use an A+ and how to count it in the computation, whether to use +/- below the C, etc.  Also, how to scale the plus/minus system is an issue – 4.0, 3.7, 3.4, 3.0, … and 4.0, 3.67, 3.33, 3.0 … are options.  Opinions on these sub-issues?


Please write a short summary of your discussion on the attached sheet, and send it by campus mail or e-mail to Joe Rodgers, Grading Task Force Chair, OU Psychology Department,   If faculty or chairs/directors have questions/comments, contact Joe Rodgers.  Thanks!

Information for the Grading Scale Task Force, Fall 2006

From OU Chairs and Directors



Department or Program   ________________    Discussion Date __________


Chair or Director (name and e-mail)  __________________________________


By “regular system,” we mean the typical A, B, C, D, F grading scale.

By “plus/minus system,” we mean some form of the regular scale with the

          addition of grade categories in between those letter grades, designated by

pluses and/or minuses.


Check one:

            The majority of our faculty prefer the regular grading system         ___________


            The majority of our faculty would prefer to switch to +/- grading    ___________


Please scale the strength of this preference by circling the number corresponding to your perception of your faculty’s opinion:


Regular grading                                                                                 Plus/minus grading

Strongly prefer           Prefer              Neutral           Prefer              Strongly prefer


            1                           2                       3                     4                           5


Perceived advantages of the regular grading system


1.  _________________________________________________________________


2.  _________________________________________________________________


Perceived advantages of the plus/minus grading system:


1.  _________________________________________________________________


2.  _________________________________________________________________


If you have other comments, please include those in an e-mail or write them on the back.

Please return to Joe Rodgers,, Department of Psychology


Thank you!!!!


Attachment 7:  Faculty Unit-Level Survey Results


Grading Task Force, Faculty Survey Unit-Level Results

Prepared by Joe Rodgers, Chair, Grading Task Force


Faculty unit-level discussions of regular versus plus/minus grading – occurred during October/December, 2006, at regular faculty meetings; information sheet circulated with survey form


30 units returned survey forms, summarizing both quantitative and qualitative indicators of the opinions of faculty in the units



General Summary


In favor of regular grading         --   8 units (27%)

Neutral                                     --   2 units (7%)

In favor of plus/minus grading – 20 units (67%)




Scaled Summary


5 point scale, 1= strongly prefer regular grading, 5 = strongly prefer plus/minus grading


            Median = 4.0       Mean = 3.7    Standard deviation = 1.4        


            Distribution:      1 –  3 units  (Strongly prefer regular grading)

                                    2 –  5 units  (Prefer regular grading)

                                    3 –  2 units  (Neutral/no preference/equal preference)

                                    4 –  9 units  (Prefer plus/minus grading)

                                    5 –  11 units  (Strongly prefer plus/minus grading)