Campus News

Would Adding Pluses or Minuses to Grades be a Plus or Minus for Bowdoin

Story posted May 01, 2000

Henry Laurence, assistant professor of government, and Simi Jain'00 faced off against Nancy Jennings, assistant professor of education, and Naeem Ahmed '00 and tackled the question as to whether adding pluses and minuses to Bowdoin's grading scale would benefit students and teachers.

Laurence and Jain argued for modifiers, Jennings and Ahmed argued against them.

Jain opened the debate with a reference to a last week's Brodie lecture, in which an education reformer emphasized the importance of a teacher in a student's life. Students come to Bowdoin, Jain said, expecting and desiring detailed feedback from their professors.

"I feel, here at Bowdoin, the evaluation system that exists is flawed in that it isn't an accurate depiction of what takes place in the classroom," she said. A flat grade of "A" or "B" doesn't provide enough information. Students are able to add comments to teacher evaluations, and teachers should have additional tools in their evaluation of students, she said.

Jain also asserted that grades are often an important motivating factor in getting a student to work and learn, and that adding modifiers to grades would increase that incentive.

"I agree with everything she said," was Ahmed's initial reply to Jain. Teacher feedback is important, and students need incentives to learn. "What I disagree with is that moving to a plus/minus system will improve this," he said.

Ahmed countered the argument for a plus/minus system with five questions.

1. Would a plus/minus systmem improve learning?

2. Would it provide a better quantitative measure for learning?

3. Would it give Bowdoin students an external advantage?

4. Would it arrest grade inflation?

5. Would it increase adademic pressure and competition among students?

He argued that a grading scale with modifiers would not solve any of the problems of questions one through four and that it would actually increase academic pressure and competition among students.

At the end of the debate, Laurence suggested another solution.

"If you really think that grades are antithetical to learning, if you really think that, then get rid of them," he said.

To which Jennings replied, "I didn't know that was one of our options."

Common Hour is open to members of the Bowdoin Community. It takes place each Friday from 12:30 to 1:30. On May 5, Common Hour and the Department of Music present a Lunchbreak Concert featuring solo and small group performances of jazz and classical selections.

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