Examining the A vs. A+ Policy and Grading Standards

Angela Shi and Maya Bhandarkar

Fueled by Lexington High School’s competitive culture, even the typical straight-A student may not feel satisfied with their report card. The coveted “+” drives already academically successful students to push for unnecessary levels of perfectionism and sparks controversy surrounding inconsistent grading techniques among teachers.  

The head of the English Department, Jane Day, has emphasized how an A+ can be anxiety-provoking for students. 

“I think the A+ sets an unhealthy high bar that students and families think is an absolute,” Day said. “Having the A+ serves to create a focus on numbers, rather than create a deeper understanding of one’s learning path.”

Kerry Dunne, the head of the Social Studies Department, also believes that the A vs. A+ policy is counterproductive.

 “I have never seen a college that offers an A+ on the transcript. I have taught at Boston College, Boston University, and Framingham State University, and the highest grade at all three institutions is an A. We are preparing most of our students to attend institutions of higher learning, and having a grade scale that resembles what they will experience there makes sense to me,” Dunne said. 

However, some students have the opposite view on this issue: they believe that the A vs. A+ policy is preferential. Sophomore Kaavya Moogala shared her perspective on this matter.

 “The idea behind it is that it lessens the stress between getting a full A+, but it creates more stress because why did I work this hard and not get an A+? It lessens the effort people put into something, so why bother? It depends on the person,” Moogala said.

While striving for an A+ is a pressure that all Lexington students may face, there have been inequities, for example, where different teachers in the same department and level have different grading standards for their students. This issue has left students and teachers with contrasting perspectives. 

Lisa Olaharski, a biology teacher, enjoys the fact that she has the freedom to use her own methods of teaching and grading.

“I can only speak for myself as a Biology teacher. I think there should be similar learning objectives, some key labs or experiments, but there should be room for teachers to be creative and choose different ways in which to assess their students. I am a better teacher because of my collaboration with other teachers to develop lessons and rubrics, but I also like to have my own spin on things,” Olaharski said.

Recently, the English department has standardized their grading systems on Aspen, which Day believes has benefited students.

“More than in years past, we’ve aligned grading practices across a course or grade level so that everyone in a course is using the same Aspen calculation – either total points or category averages … to help create a more consistent student experience,” Day said.

Other departments have also undergone efforts to make grading consistent among teachers.

“I am fine with teachers using different grading systems as long as they are transparent and clearly communicated to students…We all follow the same state standards for history/social studies… I think this helps to ensure students have a reasonably equitable experience across different teachers of the same course,” Dunne said.

However, some students believe grading methods can be further refined. 

“I feel like there are a lot of disparities in the way that different teachers grade, especially teachers who teach honors [courses] vs. non-honors [courses]. Some honors teachers use their rubrics from their non-honors courses to grade honors courses,” Bodepudi said. 

Similarly, Moogala believes differences in grading among classes of the same course occur at LHS, often harming students. 

“I know some teachers use their own rubrics based on what they taught in class…but sometimes they can make it unfair to students and can be very picky. It is not their purpose but it is harder on students. If someone has friends who are taking the same course but they have a teacher that is harder, it can make them feel bad for getting a lower grade,” Moogala said.  

On the whole, the grading system at LHS can be unfair based on the A vs. A+ policy and the different grading standards that teachers use in the same courses. Teachers and department heads may believe that an A+ grade creates excessive anxiety, but most students reject this idea and believe that having an A as the highest grade hinders them from achieving more. Although teachers have tried to make grading fair among students, more is needed.