Grade Reform, Law Schools

How Many Inflated ‘A-pluses’ Do You Need To Get A Job In D.C.?

We’ve seen it in California; we’ve seen it in New York. Now it looks like Puff the Magic Grade-Inflating Dragon is heading for Washington, D.C.

Yes sir, a school in the D.C. market has decided that the reason its students can’t get jobs has nothing to do with the quality of education or services the school provides, and everything to do with how the school itself calculates student GPAs. And so we have another institution of legal education that is poised to randomly make its curve a third of a grade easier. And the school will also introduce the dreaded A+ — which is worth 4.33 points and should be written on construction paper in glitter, to emphasize how absurdly weak it is for a person over the age of 14 to receive an A+ on anything.

CORRECTION: As pointed out in the comments, the new grade is an A+*; the A+ already exists. I’m sorry, but my little brain could not comprehend such a thing as an A+*; I thought it was a typo.

And the school’s students — who should be embarrassed by this blatant inflation of their grades, in the same way that governments cringe when they are forced to devalue their currencies — are so hopeful that this little gimmick will work that all they can do is ask if the inflation will be applied retroactively to their previous grades.

So really, the only question left is whether this trend will catch on with other D.C.-area schools, rendering the efforts of the first inflator functionally moot….

I can only hope that other D.C.-area schools are not falling over themselves to follow the lead of George Mason University School of Law. This blackline was made available to all GMU Law students yesterday:

Earlier today, the Law School Faculty voted to raise the law school’s mandatory grade curves effective with Spring 2011 grades. Below are the approved changes to the academic regulations.

AR 4-5.8 Mandatory Curves

(a) The mean grade for all required courses listed in AR 3-3.2 (exclusive of Introduction to Legal Research, Writing, and Analysis, Trial-Level Writing, Appellate Writing, and Legal Drafting), may range from 2.85 to 2.95 3.20-3.30.

(b) Mean grade ranges for Introduction to Legal Research, Writing, and Analysis, Trial-Level Writing, Appellate Writing, and Legal Drafting, will be established by the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

(c) The mean grade for upper level elective courses with 50 or more students may range from 2.80 to 3.00 3.15 to 3.35.

(d) The mean grade for upper level elective courses with more than 15 but fewer than 50 students may range from 2.70 to 3.10 3.05 to 3.45.

(e) Faculty members may not submit grades in which the mean is outside the designated range without first submitting a written explanation justification to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and obtaining written permission from the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

(f) The Associate Dean for Academic Affairs may require the instructor in any course with 15 or fewer students to provide a written justification for grades whose mean falls short of 2.70 or exceeds 3.10, and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs may require the instructor to bring the mean closer to or within that range.

In addition to increasing the mandatory curves, the faculty also voted to:

* Create a new grade with the designation of A+*. This grade, which would have the same value as an A+ (4.33), would be awarded only for extraordinary performance.

* Raise the GPA required for continued matriculation from 2.15 to 2.33 for students entering Fall 2011. Details on the implementation of this Academic Regulation for students who matriculated prior to Fall 2011 will be forthcoming.

So there you go. Are you happy, GMU Law? You haven’t increased your academic offerings or put more resources into career services or done anything to make the quality of your education improve by 35%, but you’ve made everybody’s grade 35% more pretty. You think that’s an accomplishment?

Apparently, the students do:

Under the old system, Mason sported a very low B- curve, and professors routinely gave Ds and Fs to people. The best part is the creation of a new grade, the “A+*.”

[Elie slams head into desk to approximate the experience of writing the net few sentences.]

I understand that the prospect of getting an A+* is exciting, but can’t you see that all that does is devalue the accomplishment of getting an A or A+? And it lessens the value of every other grade? Don’t you get that GMU will still be giving out “Ds and Fs,” they’ll just call them Cs now?

Don’t you see that the best thing you can hope for is that employers are momentarily confused when looking at a George Mason transcript as they try to inflation adjust for each grade? How does this help students at the school?

I know, I know, nobody cares. Trying to tell law students to balk at the offer of free grades they didn’t earn is an exercise in futility. Instead, here are the burning questions on GMU law students’ minds, according to a letter sent around by the GMU Student Bar Association:

So far, some questions so far:

* Will the Administration consider applying this change retroactively? How?
* How will this affect class rank? Will there be some form of normalization?

Sigh. Sure. Make it retroactive — then GMU can be just like Loyola – LA, and maybe they’ll be made fun of on the Colbert Report. Offering law students grade inflation is like offering children a chance to have ice cream instead of dinner; they’ll always say yes, even if it is bad or useless.

And a few more law students getting artificially fat off of empty grades isn’t the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that somehow this little stunt actually fools enough employers to cause even a marginal bump in the GMU employment statistics. Because if that happens, all the other D.C.-area schools will follow suit. We’ll be seeing stories from Georgetown to American artificially raising grades 35% to “remain competitive,” or whatever kind of double-speak nonsense the law school PR department will dream up. Seriously, how long before I’m writing about how the Oceanic School of Aviation Law is now offering a letter grade of ‘A+$$(.)(.)<3', which will be worth 66.666 points on a traditional 4.0 scale? So, yeah, just in time for exam season, we've got another school that is trying to make that exam meaningless and confusing to any employer trying to use it as the basis of a decision. Really, if you are a student who needs the coddling environment of a grading system that seeks to make everybody look as good as possible, you really should have just gone to Yale. Earlier: Law School Grading Controversies: Open Thread
Stephen Colbert Rips Loyola-L.A.’s ‘Foolproof Plan to Get Their Graduates Better Jobs’

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