Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton’s history: ECC proposes abolishment of A+ grade

Note from the Editors: This article was originally published on October 7, 1994. The Carletonian is 147 years old, with over 3,400 issues published since its inception. To reflect and learn from the newspaper’s substantial history, pieces from the archive that have particular relevance either to current events will be republished. 

Oct. 7, 1994  — The faculty addressed the possible elimination of the A+ grade and the 4.33 GPA at its Monday meeting. They will take a final vote on the proposal before the end of the term.

The discussion was in response to an Education and Curriculum Committee vote. The ECC voted nearly unanimously to abolish the grade last spring.

Arguments against the A+ grade included unregulated use throughout the college, possible grade inflation and the use of the 4.0 grade point average scale by other schools as opposed to the 4.33 scale of Carleton.

ECC member Ken Troop ’95 explained that this grading disparity has an unfair effect on students.

“[If] certain departments use it rarely and others use it often, this hurts a student majoring in a department that doesn’t give A pluses. Two students doing the same amount of work could have a different GPA,” he said.

This led committee members to examine the percentage of students receiving Latin Honors in each graduating class. They discovered that this figure had, in fact, increased with the increased awarding of A+ grades.

The awarding of A+ grades has risen the past several years. In the fall of ’92, 49 were awarded college-wide, followed by 51 awarded in the fall of ’93 and finally 64 in the winter of ’94.

The high point of 64 is equivalent to approximately 1 to 1.5 percent of the student body. Fifty-seven percent of last year’s graduating class received Latin Honors, up from fifty-one percent the year before. According to Registrar Patricia Blomquist, this increase accords with a continuing trend.

“We had been running Latin Honors at about 47, 49, 49 percent,” Blomquist said. “Then it started creeping up to over half [of the graduating class]. It’s a strong argument — perhaps the use of the A+ is inflating the overall mean.”

McKinsey, however, did not feel that the increase was unwarranted.

“My own feeling is that it’s not [wrong to award Latin Honors to more than half of a graduating class]. We have a lot of talented students doing wonderful things, and we ought to have a much higher proportion of students graduating with honors than …other liberal arts colleges that don’t have students as good as ours,” she said.

That most other colleges grade on a 4.0 scale, not a 4.33 as Carleton currently does, has led to concerns about honesty as Carleton and its students are judged against other institutions and students coming from those institutions.

“We are compared to other schools on a 4.0 scale on publications and Dean’s Reports, but that’s not really accurate because we are on a 4.33 scale,” Blomquist said.

“We’re a little inflated, and that’s not being honest.”

She was quick to dispel the rumors and fears that Carleton students applying to graduate schools and other programs were penalized as their grades were reweighted to a 4.0 scale.

“Graduate schools will reweight the A+, making it equivalent to a 4.0.”

However, none of the other grades are touched — an A does not become an A-; a B+ does not become a B,” she explained.

But Professor of Art History Lauren Soth described a scenario in which top students in a class at Carleton receive an A+, while top students in a similar class at another college receive an A, and the second best group receives an A at Carleton, while the same group at another school receives an A-, a staggering he found unfavorable.

“The entire grading system is based on fraudulence in my opinion,” he said.

Faculty are torn over the issue. Some feel it should be used as a special commendation for excellent work.

“The transcript has always reflected the grades given,” Mathematics Chair David Appleyard said. “[It] seems to me that not putting the A+ on the transcript is to deny the faculty members the right to give the A+.”

Others want to have the A+ abolished. They find it to be out of line with other colleges and graduate schools, and detrimental to Carleton’s reputation.

“If there are people who are so outstanding, you could argue just as well that they deserve A’s,” History Department Chair Kirk Jeffrey said. “The ones getting A’s could be getting A minuses. We have this grade because it’s a result of the gradual inflation of the grading system in some fields. It denatures the A and the A minus.”

An alternative to abolishing the A plus is to keep the mark but eliminate the numerical weight to note exceptional work without altering the grade point averages.

While many schools do this the plan has also received complaints.

“I’m strongly opposed to there being an A+ on a transcript, but it still being a 4.0,” Physics Department Chair Joel Weisberg said. “I found it very confusing when I got here, and it was only several years after I got here that I found out that pluses and minuses were not counted in the GPA. It seems extremely strange to me that the number and the symbol are rather interchangeable.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *