An A+ for effort

Larisa Manescu

The Senate of College Councils held a public forum Tuesday to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the University’s existing plus/minus grading system that was implemented in 2009. Named the SenaTea, the forum offered a unique opportunity for students and faculty to collectively discuss the University policy in an informal setting.

One fundamental concern an attendee raised was the University’s grade inconsistency. Professors are not required to use the plus/minus grading system, so they have the liberty of maintaining their own grading method in their classrooms. In the recent Daily Texan article on the forum, Meridith McGraw, chair of the academic affairs committee of the President’s Student Advisory Council, addresses the notion that standardizing the system — by requiring all professors to use plus/minus grading and all departments to require the same minimum grade for course credit — might compromise the “academic freedom of professors and departments at UT.”

Regulating the grading system will not deprive professors of their classroom authority. On the contrary, requiring all professors to use the plus/minus grading system would aid in establishing a comparable standard across the University while still preserving each professor’s right to establish his or her own vision of what constitutes each grade. The weight assigned to various factors in a classroom, such as participation, exams or papers, may vary from professor to professor, but the scale would remain consistent.

Another concern was that the lack of an A+ distinction may hinder undergraduate students when applying to graduate programs and fellowships. It’s peculiar that while there are three distinctions for grades below a 90, there are only two for grades at or above 90. It would be appropriate to make this distinction at the A level as well, considering the prospect of an A+ serves as an incentive for students to consistently improve their work.

With our current grading system, in which there is a broad range for an A (93-100), students are not incentivized to strive for a grade higher than a 93. The University also translates transfer students’ A+ grades into A’s, giving them the same value even though the student exerted extra effort for that A+. With the addition of an A+ distinction worth 4.33 grade points per hour, students already making that extra effort would be recognized, and a growing number of students would strive for this new grade.

The existing plus/minus grading system was initially implemented with admirable intentions, such as “more accurate representation of students’ performance,” which makes it “easier to assign grades in borderline cases,” makes UT comparable to its 11 peer institutions and helps with “transfer student discrepancies,” according to the College of Liberal Arts’ website. While introducing this system largely helped those causes, it left out two key aspects: The requirement for standard usage and the existence of an A+. Adding these missing components can only serve to better reflect the value of students’ work.

Manescu is a journalism and international relations and global studies freshman.