Currently, there is not a single A+ student at UT.
UT's grading policy uses the plus/minus scale for undergraduate courses, except for A grades; students can receive an A- but not an A+. However, students can receive either a plus or minus alongside letter grades B, C, and D.
According to Monique Anderson, associate dean and university registrar for Enrollment Services, many top ranked schools use the plus/minus grading system. In 2008, UT faculty voted to implement the policy.
"Many faculty members believe that having a plus/minus grading system allows faculty to assign grades more accurately and often helps students receive a higher grade such as a B- or A- when in the past the student may have received a C+ or B+," Anderson said.
Melissa Parker, director of advising for the College of Arts and Sciences, confirmed that prior to implementing the plus/minus scale, the Provost's Office consulted with a number of institutions already using the plus/minus scale. Parker found that students' overall grade point averages were not positively or negatively affected by introducing these additional grading options.
Yet, Jeffrey Dean, a sophomore in music education, still believes the existing system is flawed. His fall biology professor, in fact, did not abide by this scale, eliminating letter grades with minuses for his students.
When grading, Dean's professor would either bump students up to an A or down to a B+ (or up to a B and down to a C+).
"It just worked so much better," Dean said. "I guess nobody wants a minus, but it even helped in curving the class, and I don't think anyone had a problem with that."
Robert Spirko, a senior lecturer in the English department, appreciates the plus/minus system for its nuance, allowing him to recognize the merit of student work with greater precision.
"It makes it possible to recognize that a student with an 88 average has done better than one with an 81 average," Spirko said. "I can't imagine grading a paper and just saying 'B.' There's a world of difference between a paper that's just barely better than average and one that, with just a little work, might be an A."
Students also question whether the plus/minus scale can fairly represent their performance. Kaila Sachs, freshman in anthropology, sees a great disparity between plus and minus letter grades. That difference, she said, is like the difference between life and death.
"Graduating with a 4.0 means a lot, especially for grad school," Sachs said. "So, if you get straight A-'s for four years, and you don't have a 4.0, that's not really fair. For people applying to grad school that 4.0 can be crucial, and every point matters."
These concerns build as students apply for graduate school. However, graduate programs recalculate the GPAs of undergraduate applicants. When screening candidates, UT's Law School, like all law schools in the nation, evaluates both the student's original and recalculated GPA. The recalculation is determined in accordance with standards set by the Law School Admissions Council.
Karen Britton, the director of Admissions and Financial aid for the College of Law, said that because so many universities employ the plus/minus scale, UT applicants need not fear disadvantage.
"UTK's model isn't that different, and it's not terribly hurtful, harmful or helpful," Britton said. "Most schools that we see have some sort of plus or minus system, anyway."
To learn more about the UTK grading scale, click here.