Grade Reform, Law Schools

Stanford Adopts ‘Retroactive’ Honors Policy:
Students Complain In Real Time

stanford law school logo.JPGUpdate: Harvard Law School also just announced changes to its grading system that will make it more like the Yale and Stanford systems. See here.

In May, we reported that the faculty of Stanford Law School voted to change their grading system. The school went from the traditional “A, B, C, Die” system to a Yale-esque pass/fail hybrid. From the May message of Dean Larry Kramer:

[T]he faculty voted to adopt a grade reform proposal which will change our grading system to an honors, pass, restricted credit, no credit system for all semesters/quarters. The new system includes a shared norm for the proportion of honors to be awarded in both exam and paper courses. No grading system is perfect, but the consensus is that the reform will have significant pedagogical benefits, including that it encourages greater flexibility and innovation in the classroom and in designing metrics for evaluating student work.

We noted then that the school was still working on the exact meaning of “honors.”

“Honors” has now been defined. “Watch that first step … it’s a doozy.” From Dean Kramer:

[W]e will no longer use or award Order of the Coif or “Graduation with Distinction,” honors we have in the past recognized and given out at or after graduation. Instead, prizes will be awarded in individual courses to recognize outstanding student performance. Tentatively called “book prizes” (after the fashion of some other schools that use this system), one book prize may be awarded for every 15 students, and this will be true in all classes, whether the basis of evaluation is an exam or a paper. In first-year required classes, 2 prizes will be available in small sections, and 4 in large sections. In advanced classes, professors have discretion about whether and how many prizes to award, though within the same maximum guideline of one per every 15 students (faculty may round up at 8). Discretion is meant to signal that faculty are recognizing genuinely outstanding performance, not just the event of receiving a high grade. Prizes will be registered on student transcripts when grades come out at the end of each term and you will be free to list them on your resumes. The policy is effective beginning this term….

[T]he faculty also concluded that we should award book prizes to students in the class of 2010 for their 1L classes last year, following the standard set forth above. (It will take some time for these retroactive prizes to be calculated and incorporated onto student transcripts.)

The full message is reprinted, and students weigh in, after the jump.


Stanford is changing to all book prizes, all the time. That’s certainly one way of pitting classmate against classmate in a 15 person Royal Rumble to determine the next SCOTUS clerk.

But how would you like to be a 2L at Stanford right now? In case you missed it, book prizes will be applied retroactively to 1L transcripts. But even Kramer doesn’t know exactly how that is going to work.

According to one tipster:

Students here are very unhappy. This is not what we expected.
- Screwed 2L

In May, we polled the readership, and 36.7% of you said that you would prefer a Yale-type grading system over a traditional one. But Stanford didn’t copy Yale exactly.

Are you in the top 7% of your class? Because “best of 15″ is suddenly going to mean something at Stanford.

STANFORD LAW SCHOOL — MEMORANDUM — GRADE TRANSITION – HONORS

From: Larry D Kramer

Date: September 25, 2008

Subject: [law-2010] Grade Transition—Honors

Dear All:

Last week, the faculty met to resolve the final issue in our grade system transition, namely, what kind of honors to award.

First, our new policy does not apply to the class of 2009, which will remain for honors purposes (as with grades) on the old system.

Second, we will no longer use or award Order of the Coif or “Graduation with Distinction,” honors we have in the past recognized and given out at or after graduation. Instead, prizes will be awarded in individual courses to recognize outstanding student performance. Tentatively called “book prizes” (after the fashion of some other schools that use this system), one book prize may be awarded for every 15 students, and this will be true in all classes, whether the basis of evaluation is an exam or a paper. In first-year required classes, 2 prizes will be available in small sections, and 4 in large sections. In advanced classes, professors have discretion about whether and how many prizes to award, though within the same maximum guideline of one per every 15 students (faculty may round up at 8). Discretion is meant to signal that faculty are recognizing genuinely outstanding performance, not just the event of receiving a high grade. Prizes will be registered on student transcripts when grades come out at the end of each term and you will be free to list them on your resumes. The policy is effective beginning this term.

As with the new grading system, our belief is that the award of individual honors for outstanding performance in specific classes better fits our pedagogic goals than the raw end-of-school ranking Coif and Distinction required. We also believe that the new policy will send a stronger, earlier signal to employers about the immense and diverse talents of all our students. Different people do better in some formats, courses, and fields of study than in others, and the book prize policy will reflect these ranges of accomplishment more accurately than raw ranking.

Third, the faculty also concluded that we should award book prizes to students in the class of 2010 for their 1L classes last year, following the standard set forth above. (It will take some time for these retroactive prizes to be calculated and incorporated onto student transcripts.)

Best,

Larry

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