I read this Banner-Herald article today about a task force that recently reported on making UGA more rigorous for undergrads. One of the most interesting reccomendations, I thought, was this one:
One of the most important recommendations in the report is the seemingly simple change of adding pluses and minuses to grades, Morehead said. With a plus-minus system, students are more motivated to bring a B up to a B+, even after it's no longer possible to change a B to an A, he explained.
Now, I was sort of surprised when I found out that they didn't have pluses and minuses here in the grading. This article has got me thinking about grades in general, and the way they affect our performance (and self-concept) and what something like a + or - can do to influence perception. Obviously, I am a pretty good student (they don't let just anybody into graduate school) so my perception of grading is different than a lot of other people's. We'll just say I really relate to the part of Traveling Mercies when Anne Lamott writes "I was thirty-five when I discovered that B-plus was a reall good grade."
So what difference does it make in our understanding of performance and evaluation? Would I have slacked more in undergrad if I knew 91% would still get me an A? (not likely, I'm not that math-conscious) Will my students be less motivated to improve if they think there's no way their B could mosey up to a B+ or even an A-? Or do the larger grade divisions make people less aware of grades and more focused on learning (haha.. yeah right)? It seems strange to me that one of the best ways to get UGA students to try harder is to bait them with a + or a -, but if we concede that grades are the primary motivator for students, I think making them a little easier to influence might not hurt.