Grade Reform, Loyola Law School

Loyola Law School (L.A.) Retroactively Inflates Grades

We reported in November that Loyola Law School of Los Angeles was thinking about artificially raising grades. In response to the terrible economy, the school has acted on the proposal. Here’s the opening line of the message from Loyola Law Dean Victor Gold:

Last week the faculty approved a proposal to modify the grading system. The change will boost by one step the letter grades assigned at each level of our mandatory curve. For example, what previously was a B- would be a B, what previously was a B would be a B+, and so forth. All other academic standards based on grades, such as the probation and disqualification thresholds, are also adjusted upwards by the same magnitude. For reasons that will be explained below, these changes are retroactive to include all grades that have been earned under the current grading system since it was adopted. This means that all grades already earned by current students will be changed. It also means that all grades going forward will be governed by the new curve. The effect of making the change retroactive will be to increase the GPA of all students by .333. The change will not alter relative class rank since the GPA of all students will be moved up by the same amount.

Loyola students are having difficulty getting jobs. In response, did the administration consider dropping tuition? Nope. Instead, they just gave everybody an extra third of a grade — retroactively, no less. That’s not just inflation; that’s a rewriting of history.

Really, are employers out there going to fall for this? Loyola hopes so….

I’m happy — I’m thrilled, even — that law school administrations are noticing their graduates cannot get jobs in this economy. Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards correcting the problem. But of all the things a school might do to help students get jobs, artificially inflating grades retroactively seems like the most shallow and cosmetic “solution” possible.

Loyola’s rationales for the change are that, I don’t know, (1) somehow its students are just as accomplished as kids at more highly-ranked California law schools, and (2) an easier grading curve reflects a higher-quality student body:

Reasons for Change

I asked the faculty to make this change for two reasons. First, grades provide information about our students and our academic program. Employers and external sources of scholarship dollars pay very careful attention to this information. The information conveyed by the old grading curve did not accurately convey the high quality of our students. Over the last several years our students have improved significantly as measured by all the usual standards of academic accomplishment. In 1999, the undergraduate GPA for the 25th/75th percentiles of our first year class was 3.00-3.50 and the LSAT was 154/160. In 2009 the GPA was 3.17-3.61 and the LSAT was 158-163. Just 70% of our 1999 graduates passed the July bar exam on the first attempt. Over 85% of our 2009 graduates passed on the first try.

Second, many other schools already have moved their curves higher than ours to give their students an advantage in this difficult job market. In fact, before this change, only one other accredited California law school had a mean grade for first year classes as low as ours. Without adjusting our curve, we send an inaccurate message to employers about the comparative quality of our students and put them at an unfair competitive disadvantage. Since we are adjusting our curve well after many other schools in our region already moved their curves higher, our faculty decided it was important to make this adjustment retroactive.

Well, why stop there? Let’s give even more accolades to Loyola law students for exactly the same work they did before. How about everybody who shows up for every class session gets bumped up a full letter grade? Let’s give everybody who gets a C an opportunity to turn that into a B if they pitch in with janitorial duty on the weekends. Why not give high performers a “double” A+; an A+ with a bright, shiny, happy star — just so that employers all know that these kids are the super-most-awesome kids in the bunch!

Oh wait … they’re already doing that last one:

Note that the highest grade in the new curve is still called A+, as is the second to the highest grade. This is because there is no commonly accepted symbol for a grade above that level. While most grades of A+ will receive 4.333 grade points, those A+ grades that earn 4.667 grade points will be accompanied by an asterisk. The asterisk will lead the reader to an explanation on the transcript making clear that, as a result of the change in the curve we have now implemented, there are two possible grade point values for an A+. By way of comparison, USC Law School employs a system that allows for several different grade point values above 4.0.

Oh my God, would you get off of USC’s jock? If USC started handing out free performance-enhancing drugs at exam time, would you do the same?

Because really, that’s what we’re talking about. When you break down Loyola’s argument, it’s essentially “everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?” It’s great when Dolores O’Riordan does it, but when it’s coming from a law school, it just sounds like atonal yodeling into a recessionary wind.

If you want to make it easier for students to feel good about themselves, that’s one thing. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that the number one thing hurting Loyola students in this job market is the grading curve. The school needs to convince prospective employers that its graduates will make better lawyers than USC law graduates. All this proves is that the Loyola administration can juke the stats.

If you want to help students during a recession, lower tuition. This cosmetic stuff wouldn’t even fly in Hollywood.

Earlier: Harsh Curve: Competing Thoughts From Florida International and Loyola – Los Angeles

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