• 16 Apr 2009 at 4:22 PM
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HLS Grade Reform: The Official Memo

Harvard Law School seal logo.jpgWay back in September, Harvard Law School announced that the school would be dropping the letter grading system in favor of a hybrid pass/fail system. Then the market crisis bled into the legal industry, Dean Elena Kagan fled to Washington, and grade reform became less of an immediate concern.

But acting Dean, Howell Jackson, and HLS faculty have been diligently working on the new system. Today, Dean Jackson unveiled the future of HLS grading:

Dear HLS Students:

At the student town hall in February, I committed to send additional information on the new grading system once we had worked out various details of implementation. We have now completed that process and I have attached to this message a draft description of the new grading system as it will appear in the HLS Handbook of Academic Policies for 2009-10. We will be polishing this language over the next few months until publication of the Handbook, but the substantive details of the system should not change.

Howell Jackson

Let’s get into the details after the jump.


As we’ve previously reported, HLS is moving to a Honors-Pass-Low Pass-Fail system. With a curve:

In classes with over 30 JD and LLM students enrolled, the recommended distribution of grades is: 37 percent Honors; 55 percent Pass; and 8 percent Low Pass.

But HLS will also award a “Dean’s Prize.” You know, just to make sure that most everybody ends the semester slightly disappointed with themselves:

Dean’s Scholar Prizes

Up to two Dean’s Scholar Prizes per class may be awarded in recognition of outstanding work, provided there are more than 30 JD and LLM students in the course following drop/add.

a) The Dean’s Scholar Prizes will be included on the transcript and will bear the title of the course, e.g., “Dean’s Scholar in Evidence.”

b) Cross-registrants and special students do not count toward the required 30 students.

c) Dean’s Scholar Prizes will be considered in Latin honors awards in the manner described in Sections (I)(I)(6) and (7) below.

d) Dean’s Scholar Prizes will be used to break ties for the Sears Prizes after 1L and 2L years and for the Fay Diploma at graduation. In such cases, Dean’s Scholar Prizes will be factored in on a by-credit basis (e.g. a Dean’s Scholar Prize in a 4-credit class will count for more than a Dean’s Scholar Prize in a 3-credit class). The Latin honors calculation (described in Section (I)(I)(2) below) will determine which students are in the running for the Sears Prizes and the Fay Diploma.

Come on. This is Harvard. They should take the Dean’s Prize concept all the way and give the winning students some kind of physical treasure. Perhaps a Dean’s Prize crimson jacket? Or maybe a gilded crown that has to be physically turned over from one winner to the next? The rest of the students are entitled to a visual cue so they know exactly who to punch in the face after class.

We’ve also noted that current 2Ls will have a transcript Captain Crunch won’t be able to decode when they are looking for jobs as 3Ls (and they will be looking for jobs as 3Ls):

Grading for the Class of 2010

1. Third-year courses will be graded under the new grading system (H, P, LP, or F) and students are eligible for Dean’s Scholar Prizes in these courses in accordance with the Dean’s Scholar Prize rules described above in Section I(G)(2).

2. All work for which credit will be given as of 2008-09, including independent writing, will be graded according to the old grading system (A, A-, and so on), even if that work is completed in 2009-10.

3. See I(I)(9) below for Latin honors calculations for the Class of 2010.

Great. There’s going to be some person in the class of 2010 with a GPA of “3.P Dean 2π.”

Harvard is changing its grading system, Yale is increasing its class size, does U.S. News still have time to rethink its rankings?

Read the full grading memo below.

For additional coverage of the HLS grading scheme, including the new numerical point values for each of these grades, click here.

Earlier: Not To Be Left Behind, Harvard Changes Grading System Too

Howell Jackson Named Acting Dean of HLS

HLS Grade Reform: Splitting the Baby Was The Only Call

HARVARD LAW SCHOOL — MEMO — NEW GRADING SYSTEM

Note: The rules in this section are fully applicable to students who matriculated at the Law School in September 2008 or later. For particular rules governing grading for students who matriculated before September 2008 please see Section I(H) below.

1. Honors, Pass, Low Pass, or Fail Grades

a) All Harvard Law School courses–with the exception of those offered credit/fail (see I(G)(3) below)–will be graded Honors, Pass, Low Pass, or Fail (“H, P, LP or F”).

b) In classes with over 30 JD and LLM students enrolled, the recommended distribution of grades is: 37 percent Honors; 55 percent Pass; and 8 percent Low Pass.

c) In classes with over 30 JD and LLM students enrolled, faculty may, at their discretion, award one or two “Dean’s Scholar” prizes in recognition of outstanding work (see I(G)(2) below).

2. Dean’s Scholar Prizes

Up to two Dean’s Scholar Prizes per class may be awarded in recognition of outstanding work, provided there are more than 30 JD and LLM students in the course following drop/add.

a) The Dean’s Scholar Prizes will be included on the transcript and will bear the title of the course, e.g., “Dean’s Scholar in Evidence.”

b) Cross-registrants and special students do not count toward the required 30 students.

c) Dean’s Scholar Prizes will be considered in Latin honors awards in the manner described in Sections (I)(I)(6) and (7) below.

d) Dean’s Scholar Prizes will be used to break ties for the Sears Prizes after 1L and 2L years and for the Fay Diploma at graduation. In such cases, Dean’s Scholar Prizes will be factored in on a by-credit basis (e.g. a Dean’s Scholar Prize in a 4-credit class will count for more than a Dean’s Scholar Prize in a 3-credit class). The Latin honors calculation (described in Section (I)(I)(2) below) will determine which students are in the running for the Sears Prizes and the Fay Diploma.

3. Credit/fail Grades

a) All courses previously designated pass/fail will be graded on a credit/fail basis.

b) Study abroad students will receive credit/fail for their work.

HAP – I(H) Grading for the Class of 2010

1. Third-year courses will be graded under the new grading system (H, P, LP, or F) and students are eligible for Dean’s Scholar Prizes in these courses in accordance with the Dean’s Scholar Prize rules described above in Section I(G)(2).

2. All work for which credit will be given as of 2008-09, including independent writing, will be graded according to the old grading system (A, A-, and so on), even if that work is completed in 2009-10.

3. See I(I)(9) below for Latin honors calculations for the Class of 2010.

HAP I(I) – Graduation with Honors

1. If a student completes the requirements for the J.D. degree with distinction, he or she will receive the degree cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude.

2. Honors awards will be calculated by subtracting the number of HLS graded credits in which an LP was received from the number of HLS graded credits in which an H was received and dividing the result by the total number of HLS graded credits. (H Credits – LP Credits/Total Credits). Net honors will be calculated for each year of study and then averaged across the three years for Latin honors determinations.

3. The summa cum laude will be awarded to the top one percent of the class according to the honors calculation in (I)(I)(2) above.

4. The magna cum laude will be awarded to the next ten percent of the class according to the honors calculation in I(I)(2) above.

5. The cum laude will be awarded to the next 30 percent of the class according to the honors calculation in I(I)(2) above.

6. In the case of ties at the margin of the percentage required for honors after the net honors calculation as described in (I)(I)(2) above, a student’s total number of Dean’s Scholar Prize credits will be used to determine his/her ranking for purposes of Latin honor awards.

7. All students who are tied at the margin of the percentage required for honors after net honors and Dean’s Scholar Prizes are considered will be deemed to have achieved the required rank for the appropriate Latin honors. Students who graduate in November or March will be granted honors to the extent that students with their same net honors average and the same number of Dean’s Scholar Prize credits received honors the previous June.

8. Any student earning an F grade at any time during his/her law school years will automatically be ineligible for Latin honors.

9. Latin honors for students in the Class of 2010:

a) First-year and second-year GPAs will be calculated using the previous grading scale. Third-year GPA will be determined by a simple weighting formula.

b) For transfer students, grades from first-year classes taken in 2008-2009 (given under the new system) will be weighted according to a simple weighting formula and then averaged with all other second-year grades (given under the old system) to determine second-year GPA. Third year GPA will be determined by a simple weighting formula.

c) GPA will be calculated for each year of study and then averaged across the three years for graduation honors determinations.

d) Dean’s Scholar Prizes will not be used in the Latin honors award calculations for the Class of 2010.

10. Latin honors for students who matriculated before September 2008 who will graduate after June 2010 will be calculated using, as appropriate, a combination of GPA based on the system of grading prior to 2008-09 and GPA based on a simple weighting formula. GPA will be calculated for each year of study and then averaged across the three years for Latin honors determinations.

11. The following are not included in Latin Honors calculations:

a) Credit/fail courses.

b) Cross-registration courses.

c) W/D notations.

d) Courses in which the student received an F.

HAP I(J) – Minimum Grades

1. The minimum grade required for completion of the J.D. credit requirements is a grade of at least an LP in all required courses and for the total number of credits required for the J.D. degree (see Sections (I)(B) and (C) above).

2. Papers written to satisfy the J.D. Written Work Requirement must receive a grade of LP or better.

HAP I(K) – Minimum Annual Progress

1. First-Year Work:

a) Satisfactory completion of the first-year program–consisting of the required 1L courses (including First-Year Legal Research and Writing) and the upper-level elective credits–requires a grade of at least an LP in every course.

b) A student receiving an F in any required course in the first year is eligible to retake the course or take a re-examination in the course under the examination retake policy in the second year and still maintain his or her minimum academic progress.

c) A student receiving an F in the first year elective course may in the second year either re-take the course or take a different course to make up the failed credits.

2. Second-Year Work–The following minimum requirements must be met:

a) Completed the first-year work with grades that equal or exceed the minimum as set forth in I(K)(1) above, and

b) Grades of LP or better in the minimum number of required credits for the second year of study.

c) Credits for retaking a course or taking reexaminations in order to complete first-year work are not counted for this purpose.

d) Special dispensation to continue in the Law School after the second year of residence without having met these requirements may be granted by the Administrative Board under such terms as it deems appropriate.

3. Third-Year Work–If after completing three years of residency, the minimum grade requirements for the J.D. degree have not been met (see I(K)(1) and (2) above), the following may be used to meet the degree requirements:

(a) Additional courses may be taken within the next two academic years to meet necessary degree requirements;

(b) If a failing grade is the reason for failure to meet the degree requirements, students may exercise the option to retake the course or seminar or take the re-examination or make up the credits either by taking another course, or in another approved fashion, to fulfill the necessary requirements.

4. Any student receiving two or more F’s during any academic year will be referred to the Administrative Board. The Administrative Board may decide, in such a case, that the student is unable to advance to the next year.

Section II: Requirements for Graduate Degrees

A. Master of Laws (LL.M.)

3. Minimum Grades

a. In order to be eligible for the LL.M. degree, LL.M. candidates must complete a total of at least 22 credits, of which no fewer than 19 must be graded LP or higher and no fewer than 3 must be graded P or higher.

b. LL.M. candidates must earn a minimum grade of LP on the paper submitted to satisfy the LL.M. Written Work Requirement.


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