"Thanks for your evaluation of T's paper. Once again, you reinforced (sometimes in the exact words I had used) what I thought of his paper. You really are wonderful! ;-)" [And regarding another student in that family, whose paper is among those in Noteworthy Papers from 2001-2002 Students ...] "I must tell you that your evaluation (a grade of 'A') was met by leaps of joy (literally) and whoops of 'Wow! Wow!' Such is the esteem with which your opinion is held around here. :-) "The "A" student is now in a difficult humanities discipline in graduate school and has shown in his academic work over the years that he is truly a gifted student, and a diligent one as well. The mother is a dear long-distance friend of mine who teaches writing, too, and I would love to have my children in her classes.
All of that is to say, I do not give A's easily, and even the ones I do give are almost always A-minus if it is early in the year, because there is ALWAYS something that can be improved. To me an A paper is one that does everything it was supposed to do (a B paper) with additional style and depth and excellence that just lifts my heart as I read it. If I can be surprised or delighted by something in the paper, and that is consistently integrated into the whole, that paper might come to an A grade, even with a couple of serious grammatical errors! (Well, maybe an A-minus in that case.) My husband testifies that at Clemson University about 1980 a very strict code required that any paper with one major error (comma splice, s-v disagreement, runon) could earn no higher than a B-minus, and two of those errors resulted in a failing grade. I'm not quite that strict.
But for those who aspire to an A, consider it is with me a badge of high honor indeed. The A-plus paper is one I would have been thrilled to have written myself, and I have one or two of those each year, too.
I really cannot say it better than Jack Lynch does in "Getting an A on an English Paper."