The letter grade and selective retention system

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LAST week, we wrote on the various forms of grading systems focusing on the Pass/Not Pass system. Grading system forms can be in percentages (75%, 90%, etc.), letters (A, B+, etc), numbers (5, 4, etc.) or adjectives (Superior, Average, etc.) — each form in the service of the other forms. Percentage marks could be from 50% to100%. The P or F or Not Pass system is often used for Individual Studies courses. An example is, an Agriculture student wishing to enroll in voice or piano. If permitted by the dean, this subject may earn the student a High Pass, Pass or Failed and which in any way will not affect the academic status of the student — which means the grade would not count for honors or for retention purposes. The same is true with undergraduate refresher courses required of graduate students.

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Retention means the student “retains” a place in the university — in the College or academic department where the degree pursued is administered. In cases covered by the university’s retention policy, a student may be placed on academic probation which usually is allowed only once. Thus, a last chance at retention could be given a student whose choice of a major or a degree, based on ranked options of admission aptitude examination results, proves to be a poor choice. In this case, the student may be allowed to enroll in another program.

Besides the Pass/Not Pass type of the letter grade system is the five-letter grade, symbolized by A, B, C, D and the failure F. Then there is the seven-letter grade consisting of A, A-, B, B-, C, D and F. The last type is the nine-letter grade where the letters are A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, D and F. The letter grading system usually has equivalent percentage ranges usually in fours, fives or even sixes together with corresponding performance descriptions. For example, in the seven-letter grade, grade A would range from 96% to 100%, A- 90% to 95%, B 86% to 89%, B- 81% to 85%, C 76% to 80%, D 75% to 79% and F is below75%. These ranges and performance descriptions help the teacher determine with increased accuracy what letter grade to give a student.

Performance descriptions for letter grades are given quality points as metrics and which may differ from one HEI to another. Let’s say the letter grade A is assigned 4 quality points, A- 3.5, B 3, B- 2.5, C – 2 and D –1. The average value of these grades within a term — whether in a trimester or semester, is often referred to as Quality Point Average (QPA) or Quality Point Index (QPI). To arrive at the QPA/QPI, multiply the quality point of each grade obtained for each subject by the credit units of each subject taken within a term. For instance, a grade of B (has 3 quality points) for General Biology, a 5-credit unit subject would render 15 quality points. Repeat computation for every subject. Then, sum up all the quality points and divide their total by the total number of credit units of all the subjects for the said term. The result is the QPA/QPI of the student for that term. Where the minimum QPA/QPI is not met, which is very possible, due to low marks or a failure, the student may be placed on academic probation usually allowed only once. Depending on what subjects were graded poorly, the student is retained and advised to shift to another course. If general education subjects are failed, the student will likely be dropped from the university.

This kind of system is usually operational both in an open admission/selective retention policy and in a selective admission/selective retention policy. To retain one’s place in the university, the student must meet the minimum required QPA/QPI at end of freshman year and which minimum increases for promotion to the next curricular levels up to senior year. For five-year courses, the required minimum QPA/QPI is usually the same for senior and fifth years. A 2.0 is required to enter senior (and fifth) year and which also qualifies a graduate to receive a diploma. Obtaining less than 2.0, a graduate receives only a certificate of having met the requirements for the degree. A university with a stringent admission cut off may choose not to require a minimum grade for retention because failure in a subject would likely be a rare case. Latin honors require a specific QPA/QPI for the entire four or five-year course a student pursues— a minimum grade and no failures.

Initiating the selective retention system through the 7-letter grade at Xavier University the Ateneo de Cagayan during my 8-year deanship until 1976, prodded me to closely study the letter grading system. After much thought, we collegially arrived at replacing the University’s percentage system of the early thirties. Much later did I learn of a similar QPI system at AdeM when my son made it to a diploma. A diploma is awarded only to a graduate who meets the cumulative minimum QPI of 2.00 (equivalent to 80%); otherwise, a certificate stating graduation from that degree is issued. No wonder why students became engrossed at computing their QPI for every term. Better known as the QPI system, the letter grade paired with quality points is likely to firm up a university’s selective admission and retention system. (Grading systems – to be continued)

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Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon,PhD, is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. Her studies have included not only education and pedagogy but also literature. She has studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Britain and Japan. She is now the Vice-President for External Relations and Internationalization of Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro) after serving as its VP for Academic Affairs for six and a half years concurrent to her ten years as dean in the Graduate Studies of the same university. She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the central office of the Commission on Higher Education.

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