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Grade Modifiers Will Likely Remain for Internal Use Only

By Kristen Landino

After evaluating the results of a three-year experiment on the use plus-minus modifiers on internal grade reports, the Committee on the Undergraduate Program will propose that the faculty continue to restrict grade modifiers to internal use only.

Before the experiment began in the fall of 1995, MIT students could only receive grades of "A,""B," "C," "D," or "F," with no plus or minus modifiers attached.

According to the recommendation which will be brought forward by the CUP, plus-minus modifiers will not appear on official MITtranscripts but still appear on reports to academic advisors. The faculty will vote on the issue in April.

"In general, the MIT faculty wanted external grade modifiers; however, the overwhelming student consensus indicated a desire for intermediate grades to remain internal," said Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures Suzanne Flynn, chair of the CUP.

"I believe our decision represented a compromise between both students and faculty at MIT," Flynn said.

Van L. Chu '99, Cristian A. Gonzalez '99, Nathaniel J. Grier '00, and Matthew L. McGann '00 all offered their input to the committee as student representatives to the CUP.

The majority of CUPmembers supported the decision to keep grade modifiers internal for several different reasons.

"I think everyone agreed that the modifiers helped both students and advisors to better determine performance in their coursework but another key consideration was the fact that a non-trivial percentage of faculty members do not opt to use modifiers, particularly the A+' so there would not be uniformity in external representation," Grier said.

"Statistics showed that neither grade distributions nor GPAs changed with any statistical significance because of modifiers, and the benefit of increased feedback remained the same, regardless of whether the grade modifiers were internal or external. Making the modifiers external would only serve to increase pressure at MIT," McGann said.

Although students and faculty on the whole had divergent interests, those on the CUP reached an almost unanimous consensus after months of discussion and research.

"The CUP really listened to student input and concerns. It also was a rarity in the land of MIT committees in that it did not disregard the subcommittee's report; indeed, it endorsed them in full," McGann said.

The CUP decided in December that they would not try to alter the status quo. Once the decision was made, Flynn asked student representatives on the CUP to organize an open forum with the help of the Student Committee on Educational Performance during IAP to discuss the CUP's decision. However, this idea fell through due to lack of interest.

The CUP was originally to have made their decision before the end of the spring 1998 semester, in time to implement a permanent decision beginning in the fall semester of 1999. However, the deadline was extended in order to gather more research on the issue.

Grade modifiers appear in 1995

Experimental grade modifiers were first approved by the faculty in April of 1995. Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Nigel H. M. Wilson PhD '70, then the chair of the Committee on Academic Performance, said that the faculty would definitely reconsider the issue of intermediate grades after three years ["New Grade Scheme Suggested by CAP," April 7, 1995].

Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Paul A. Lagace '78 led the subcommittee of the CUP responsible for researching the current grading system.

Three years ago, in an effort to improve the informative value of grades at MIT, the subcommittee decided to institute an experimental program which added internal modifiers to grades. The modifiers could only be viewed by MIT faculty and the students themselves.

At that time, faculty satisfaction with the grading system was at an all time low. According to one survey in 1995, only 25 percent were satisfied with the current system of grading.

Students in 1995 also showed some dissatisfaction with the grading system, as half of the 15 percent of students who responded expressed interest in a change in the grading system.