Grade Reform

Harvard Law School Grade Reform Update

Harvard Law School seal logo.jpgYesterday, we reported that Harvard Law School was making a change to its grading curve before finals. We told you that HLS lifted the requirement to have a certain percentage of the class received a “low pass” in the law school’s new High Pass/Pass/Low Pass/Fail grading system.
After our report went live, Harvard Law School’s Vice Dean for Academic Programming, Andrew Kaufman, sent around an email to all students. According to Dean Kaufman, mandatory low passes were never a part of the HLS grading plan:

We have recently become aware of all sorts of rumors floating around about “changes” in our so-called grading curve, in particular the percentage of Low Passes. In fact, we have never had and do not now have a mandatory curve. All we have had for the last twenty years is a recommended curve. We did not recently change that curve. All we have done is to make clear to faculty that under the new grading system and in keeping with the recommended nature of the curve, they have discretion regarding the exact percentage of grades to be given in each category.
Andrew Kaufman
Vice Dean for Academic Programming

Fair point. Thanks for clearing that up.
But HLS dropped letter grading over a year ago. Are you telling me that the Harvard Law School faculty wasn’t entirely clear on how to grade students, for a year? During the worst legal job market in recent memory?
Some HLS students we talked to aren’t very happy with that.

The new grading format was in full effect spring semester last year for 1Ls. These 1Ls are now 2Ls. As I mentioned yesterday, some of those 2Ls just had to interview in this challenging market with a low pass hanging on their transcript.
And now HLS is telling students that it didn’t have to be that way? The school’s saying that it just didn’t have its faculty on the same page before they started handing out grades?
From the student’s perspective, the “recommended” curve certainly seemed mandatory to them. According to one student:

[W]hile the curve is not and has never been mandatory, student surveys circulated to the majority of last years 1L class revealed enormous consistency (true, not everyone participated in the surveys and there’s no way to check honesty–but this was before the curve was released and everyone wanted to know what it was). I think it even showed somewhat more than 8% LP.

Again, it’s great that HLS administration and HLS faculty are on the same page. It’s just very odd that they weren’t on the same page last semester.
Earlier: Harvard Law and Georgetown Law Make Grading Easier
HLS Grade Reform: Splitting the Baby Was The Only Call

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