The Daily Gamecock

Grading Scale Ambiguity

Current system for rating students causes discrepancies

With scholarship retention, graduate school applications and student confidence riding on the smallest fractions of grade point averages, the few percentage points that separate a “B” from a “B-plus” can hold far greater significance for some students than these scant differences may suggest.

Many majors at USC require a cutoff GPA in order to continue within that field of study, and most scholarships require students to maintain a minimum GPA for retention. Because the University does not currently employ a universal grading scale, grading discrepancies among individual instructors can sometimes complicate and confuse students’ GPA goals.

With the University’s current system of instructor-decided grading scales, the following situation comes into question: When one student must acquire a 90 to receive an “A” in one class, while a colleague need only manage an 85 to receive the same grade in another, is it fair to say the two have earned the same grade and, consequently, the same number of grade points?

Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Studies Helen Doerpinghaus said the topic of a uniform grading scale has never, as far as she is aware, been officially discussed in her time at the University. She said that while it poses an interesting point of consideration, the topic has so far not been an issue on the University’s radar of concern.

Many students feel the University’s current grading system is indeed fair. Students appreciate the reasoning behind grades being assessed based on relative performance within a class.

“If that was the best attained grade in the class, then that person was the most worthy of an ‘A,’” said second-year nursing student Alex Merisotis. “The class average should be based off of the most prepared student, and if that’s where they lie, then that’s where the standards should be set.”

First-year computer information systems student Ryan McGraw said it would be difficult and unfair to expect students in more taxing areas of study to perform well based on the same grading scale as less intensive study departments.

“I think teachers know how hard their classes are going to be, and they base their grading scales on average performance,” he said. McGraw added that as long as instructors are clear and consistent with their individual grading systems, a uniform scale would be unnecessary and undesired.

Though many primary and secondary schools and school systems operate with some form of a standardized grading scale — including all South Carolina public schools, which follow a state-mandated eight-point scale — it is rare to find a university that employs a uniform grading scale.

Capstone Principal Patrick Hickey believes a universal grading system would help Carolina achieve a more organized, less confusing structure of grading.

“It would be nice if there were some form of standardization — if an ‘A’ is an ‘A’ in one program, there’s no reason for it to be something else in another,” Hickey said.


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