Virginia Peterson, a sophomore and an early childhood education major, plays softball and works at the front desk in the Student Success Center at Mount Mary University. She said Mount Mary’s grading scale makes it difficult for students to get high GPAs.
“You’re expected to get an A, but those students that push hard, hard, hard and can never get the grade they want, it sucks on their part because they can get 80 percent (on a test) and still get a C,” Peterson said.
Peterson said the grading scale pushes her to work harder to get the letter grade she wants because, to her, 90 percent in a class is good. However, even when she does work hard and earn 90 percent, it’s only a B.
Faculty and Staff Perspectives
According to Mary Karr, registrar at Mount Mary, from 1932 to 1959, passing grades were an A, B, C, D and the failing grade was an F. The only difference that was made between 1959 and 1972 was how many percentage points students earned for each grade, which affected their GPAs.
This grading scale was implemented by the time Jane St. Peter, a mathematics instructor, arrived as a full-time professor at Mount Mary in 2005. St. Peter thinks that students don’t struggle with the grading scale; they struggle with the numbers. They freak out when they see the letter grade, even when the number percentage isn’t bad.
History of MMU Grading Scale
Passing grades were A, B, C, D, F
Percentage points were changed, affecting student GPAs.
St. Peter wants her students to know that their professors can give guidance to improve their overall grade, such as rounding up if permissible or helping them one-on-one with a specific assignment.
“For most people, in the end, they are saying that my grading would be hard but fair,” St. Peter said.
St. Peter gives her students opportunities to fix the work that they have turned in, and, for the most part, she knows that her students get help when they know they need it. If they need a couple more days on an assignment, all they have to do is talk to her and she’ll offer help.
Debra Brenegan, the English graduate director, said that she loves the grading scale because the scale that was implemented at the former school she taught at was much harder.
Brenegan felt bad for the students at her former place of work, because no matter where they were on the scale, they got a solid A, a solid B, etc.
“I think (the grading scale) is a lot fairer (here) because it lets the people who are in the grey areas be more correctly assessed,” Brenegan said.
Brenegan has never thought about whether students struggle with the grading scale or not.
“If they came from a situation where a high school had a standard grading scale where a 90-100 is an A, an 80-89 is a B, and so on and so forth, yes, they will struggle,” Brenegan said. “I think if you’re coming from that kind of experience, then you would probably feel like this is not fair for your grade point average.”
The grading scale at Brenegan’s former institution allowed students more opportunities to earn an A, but it also made it difficult to jump up a whole letter grade.
“It was also really hard because if a student was at an 88 percent and they couldn’t get to the 90 that they needed, they would just stop trying because they figured, ‘Why should I even care because I can just slide all the way down to an 80 and still get a B?’” Brenegan said.
Perry Clark, the head softball coach at Mount Mary, thinks the grading scale is too strict. Although he isn’t a professor, he sympathizes with his players.
“We want our students at Mount Mary to engage in community activities, on-campus activities, and all these other things; yet we’re also requiring them (to be) on a higher grading scale,” Clark said.
Clark said the grading scale is a challenge for students at Mount Mary. He thinks that even if the grading scale was traditional, students would still put in the same amount of effort. They would just be rewarded more.
“My theory on (the traditional grading scale) is, if a student studies for eight hours for a test, and they really work hard on it and they get a 92 and they’re given an AB, it’s almost like, ‘Why am I studying that hard if I’m only going to get an AB?’” Clark said.
Clark emphasized that a traditional grading scale would give more reward to students who work hard to get good grades, which would benefit all students, including student athletes.
Twenty-nine students were asked via a Facebook poll what they thought about the grading scale. On a scale from very easy to very difficult, 17 of those students said the scale is difficult.
Mary Jenks is junior at Mount Mary University, studying art therapy. She was one of the students who said the grading scale is difficult.
“While it can sometimes be difficult to get the desired grade for some, the strict grading scale that Mount Mary offers encourages its students to go above and beyond in their academics,” Jenks said. “It’s a high standard, but it’s definitely achievable.”
Naideliz Gonzalez, a freshman with a Grace Scholarship, thinks the grading scale is unfair, and just losing 10 points
on a 30 point assignment was enough to give Gonzalez a CD in her class.
“If you don’t try, you’re going to fail,” Gonzalez said. “It’s as simple as that.”
A common theme in the poll found that students focus more on the letter grade than the actual percentage. Kelsey Arango, a dietetics major, believes the grading scale could harm a student’s grades.
“Yes (it is difficult) because it pushes students to try their hardest,” Arango said. “But also no because some people try their very hardest, and all they get is a C just because they got two questions wrong in a 10-question quiz.”
Students tend to stress when they see the letter grade instead of the percent they get. Another student in the survey mentioned how her self-esteem took a hit because of the grades she received when she normally got higher grades.
“I mean, after (getting that grade), I’m gonna try harder instead of just give up because I don’t want to fail,” Gonzalez said. “It’s like a scare tactic in a way.”
Comparison to Alverno’s Grading Scale
Private colleges have the ability to create their own grading scale, while public colleges, such as those within the University of Wisconsin system, have to be consistent. Alverno College, a private school, does not use a grading scale; its classes are pass/fail. Students receive a transcript that illustrates their progression throughout their college career.
Abigail M. Springsteen, a student at Alverno College, loves this type of evaluation. An S is when a student is doing really well and the professor believes you know the material. An IP means you’re doing okay, but still lack in certain areas. Next comes a U, which means a student is unsuccessful in learning the material taught in the course.
“At first it took time to get used to it, but I grew to love it,” Springsteen said. “Getting an S feels really good because it means I understand what is going on and never have any doubts.”
Her professors give extensive feedback that shows what she did best in, and that feels good to her. Springsteen has to look at the quality of her work rather than just the letter grade.
“I could put no effort into a paper (at another school) and still get a B,” Springsteen said. “Whereas here, it’s not that simple.”