Grade Reform

Sharp Curve.JPGLast year, moving away from letter grades was all the rage. Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School both dumped letter grading.

But now grade reform has spread to schools that are tinkering with their curves. USC Law decided to give students an extra .1 — you know, ’cause it looks better. NYU Law also made things a little easier for their students, academic rigor be damned.

Last week, we received word that Loyola – Los Angeles is also contemplating changing its curve to make things a little easier for students trying to get jobs. A Loyola tipster reports:

LLS is trying to push a grade change referendum to change the median grade from a 2.7 (B-) to a 3.3 (B+). … [P]erhaps if you post something, … [it will result] in a lively discussion on the issue, and our school will see how it’s such a bad idea to do this since it punishes the small number of us that actually did well at this mediocre school by making grades meaningless and giving distinction to those who don’t deserve it.

Loyola Law Dean Victor Gold told Above that Law that any change in the curve is at the preliminary stage:

Our students have asked for changes to the median grade because other local schools have already increased their medians. Some students have suggested a change as great as moving from B- to B+. I have asked the faculty grading committee to look at the issue, but it has not yet made any proposal. If the committee makes a proposal, it will come to the entire faculty for a vote. Any change will have to carefully balance several factors. We want to give our students the strongest possible position in a difficult job market while at the same time maintaining a grading system that is both fair and honest.

Do better grades lead to better jobs, even if those grades are inflated? Perhaps. But students at Florida International University College of Law hope that is not the case.

Details and a reader poll after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Harsh Curve: Competing Thoughts From Florida International and Loyola – Los Angeles”

usc law logo.JPGAt least the USC Gould School of Law is being relatively honest. According to the administration, USC students do not get grades on par with students at peer institutions. This hurts USC students in the job market. The most simple way to fix this discrepancy is to just give everybody at USC Law an extra boost to their GPA.

You think it can’t possibly be that simple? Here is the grade reform proposal that USC faculty and student representatives will be voting on, on December 11th:

Proposed Revision:

Under the current grading curve, the average grade in each first-year course is set at 3.2. Under the Dean’s proposal, the average grade in each first-year course would be set at 3.3 rather than at 3.2. The effect of this change would be to raise each first-year grade by .1. For example, a student who would have earned a grade of 3.2 in Torts under the current grading curve would instead earn a grade of 3.3. Similarly, a student whose year-end GPA under the current grading curve would be a 3.2 would instead have a year-end GPA of 3.3.

I don’t see why a major law school would admit that their grading system was a joke that they came up with out of a hat, but there you go. Free points for everybody, because halfway through the 2008/2009 school year USC decided that law school was just too damn hard.

USC’s justifications and rationalizations after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Grade Reform at USC Gould School Of Law: Here’s a Free .1″

columbia law school logo.jpgHere’s our best attempt to tie up a few loose ends on the strange saga of Columbia’s Career Services’ Dean, Ellen Wayne.

Many CLS students were, frankly, pissed to hear of Dean Wayne’s departure via ATL. This

was sent to the entire law student body earlier this week:

Dear Students,

As you may know, speculation has circulated the law school and the Internet regarding changes at Career Services. Your student representatives are aware of the situation and have been meeting with administrators throughout the day. In these meetings, we have stressed the importance of providing students with as timely and accurate information as events allow.

We anticipate more information will be provided as soon as practicable. In the meantime, we ask for your patience. Career Services is in full operation; 1L resume reviews will continue and the LL.M. job fair will take place early next year. It is unfortunate that many of us learned of this situation from sources other than the law school administration. Please know that we are aware of the situation, have been strenuously advocating on your behalf, and will strive to provide additional information as appropriate.

Sincerely yours,

The Student Senate

Apparently, “as soon as practicable” turned out to be Friday. But we’re not sure the following message contained the details that most CLS students were looking for:

From: Ed Moroni.

Dean of Career Services Ellen Wayne has resigned from her position after 14 years of dedicated service to the Columbia Law School. During this time the Office of Career Services delivered very high rates of job placement for our students – often 100 percent – in addition to advisement and placement services in support of our alumni. Over her long tenure, Dean

Wayne assisted and counseled literally thousands of students and graduates of the Law School. Among her many accomplishments, she also initiated a full-service program and multi-law-school job fair for LL.M. students, and enhanced and professionalized the EIP recruitment event for J.D. candidates.

We thank her for her service and wish her well in all of her future endeavors.

To ensure a smooth transition while we search for a permanent replacement, former director of career services Natasha Patel has agreed to serve as Acting Dean of Career Services. Natasha will return to Columbia on December 8, 2008. The Career Services Office remains in full operation. Students and others should contact the appropriate person as listed in the

following directory, http://www.law.columbia.edu/careers/career_services/staff, who will

continue to provide services and programming for our students.

— Ed

Edward Moroni

Associate Dean for Administration and Finance

Columbia Law School

So, we still don’t officially know whether Dean Wayne left voluntarily or was asked to leave, or any of the reasons for her departure.

A tipster puts an interesting spin on the situation after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “A Columbia Potpourri:
Columbia Talks About Deans and Grades But Provides Little Information”


Harvard Law School seal logo.jpgWhen Harvard law school announced that they would be dropping their letter-grading system in favor of a pass/fail system, we noted that the school had not yet decided how to apply the new system to current law students:

But the crucial question is whether this new system will be applied retroactively to the classes of 2009 and 2010.

Well, today Harvard decided. After discussing the pros and cons of applying the new system to current 2Ls, Dean Elena Kagan announced:

In light of these strong arguments on both sides of the question, the School will adopt something of a middle course, suggested by a number of second-year students. (I should note that second-year students offered several other creative approaches to the issue, and we seriously considered all of them.) In 2008-09, members of this class will continue to receive traditional grades. In 2009-10, members of the class will receive grades under the new grading system, with the result that the entire school in that year will operate on this new system. Graduating honors will continue much as now, based on performance from all three years. This approach will allow students in the position I have described above to show the kind of improvement in their academic records most easily recognized by judges and other employers (because based on the same metric). At the same time, it will enable the entire Law School, including members of the class of 2010, to participate in, and gain the educational benefits of, the new system beginning next year. I understand that some may view this solution as akin to cutting the baby in half, and it will disappoint some students on both sides. But it seems to me to respond appropriately to the most powerful concerns on either side and thus to represent a judicious, even if by no means perfect, resolution of the issue.

This is a big difference from what Stanford instituted this September. Remember, SLS decided to retroactively apply their modified pass/fail system to the 1L grades of current 2Ls.

Harvard’s balancing act is designed to give 2Ls the best chance at getting jobs and clerkships in this tough market. But transcripts of 2010 law school graduates will still look … a bit weird. At least 2010 SLS transcripts will all be on the same system, somehow.

Which do you prefer?

Read Kagan’s full memo, including her discussion about what happens to 3Ls and LLMs, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “HLS Grade Reform: Splitting the Baby Was The Only Call”

UofC Law School logo.JPGThe University of Chicago Law School is ranked as the seventh best law school in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report.

As we have extensively reported, the top-six schools (Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, NYU, Berkeley) have all moved away from letter grading towards a modified pass/fail system, or are contemplating such a move (Yale and Berkeley have had pass/fail systems for some time).

The University of Chicago Law School, which currently has a grading system that defies rational understanding, is the next logical school to face the growing tide towards grade reform. On Friday, an all faculty meeting took place to discuss the matter.

According to tipsters, one professor discussed the meeting with his class. The professor suggested that the administration felt they had to consider the issue with an eye towards remaining competitive with their peer institutions. The professor then asked the class if they shared those concerns:

Interestingly enough, the professor who mentioned this to us did a straw poll of students (mostly 2Ls) and the vast majority were in favor of staying on our current system. It’s not like anyone knows what our system really is/means, so why change it?

The Dean responds after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Grade Reform Comes to the University of Chicago?
Not So Fast My Friends”

New York University Law School NYU Law School Above the Law.JPGRemember the barely watchable movie Major League II? Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn arrives at spring training with an assortment of off-speed curveballs and change-ups, abandoning his 100-mph-plus fastball essentially because he’s gone soft.

That (terrible) plot is being carried out by the nation’s top law schools. We’ve reported on HLS and SLS moving away from letter grades. We scuttled a poll by Columbia Law School trying to ascertain whether students there wanted to move to a modified pass/fail system. Now, despite earlier protestation from some members of the student body, NYU Law is now moving towards their own version of grade reform. The hope, apparently, is sterling transcripts for all, academic competition for none:

In Fall 2007, the Executive Committee of the faculty re-evaluated the NYU grade curve as part of a broader charge. The Committee concluded that the curve appears to be somewhat out of line with peer schools, and expressed concern that an unintended effect could be that it systematically disadvantages our students applying for clerkships and some other jobs.

Is there no end to this madness? In essence, that letter represents a bunch of students saying:

Whaaaa. Law school is hard. I want my clerky-ships. How come Johnny gets all the good grades? Whaaaa!

And NYU is caving. They’re throwing a curveball in a 3-1 count instead of having the guts to throw a hard strike.

Getting good grades is not a right. And it shouldn’t be a gift. Some people have the talent and focus to get good grades, other people have the social skills to get laid. What precisely was wrong with that system?

Read the full NYU Law memo after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “NYU Law Grade Reform: Another Law School Loses Its Fastball”

columbia law school logo.jpgEarlier, we told you that Harvard and Stanford were replacing letter-grades in favor of a “we’re all winners” system. We then reported that the NYU Law School student newspaper published essentially an open letter, begging Columbia not to follow suit.

As you might imagine, Columbia is totally unconcerned with NYU law students and their opinions. The CLS student senate is conducting a poll to gauge where their classmates stand on grade reform:

Recently, both Stanford and Harvard law schools have announced that they will be eliminating letter grades and implementing differing pass/fail systems. This joins Yale in the ranks of upper echelon schools that “do not have grades.” Columbia Law School has considered eliminating letter grades in the past, and in light of these recent developments, the issue has again begun receiving increased scrutiny. Please take a moment to take this very brief, two-question survey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=uv3D6bgR7ZEQve_2bYuYjbTg_3d_3d, and let us know what you think! The poll will close on Friday, October 17, at 5:00 pm, and the results will be published in next week’s issue of The CLS Black Letter.

Pedagogical benefits are fun to talk about, but law school is still a professional school. People go there to get jobs. Is a modified pass/fail system going to help CLS students get jobs? That seems to be the only relevant question.

New York University Law School NYU Law School Above the Law.JPGAccording to our poll Tuesday, the majority of you prefer a traditional A,B,C,D grading system over a modified Yale system like the ones adopted by Harvard and Stanford.

Apparently, NYU law students agree that A,B,C,D is the best way to go.

In The Commentator, NYU Law School’s student newspaper, Andrew Gehring vehemently disagrees with the changes adopted by HLS and SLS:

Attempting to provide content to [Stanford Law School Dean Larry] Kramer ‘s claim about “pedagogical benefits” is a more or less futile exercise. I can see no way for a grading system that essentially just eliminates the +/- aspect of the standard system to have an impact on a professor’s teaching style, so the claim about “innovation” seems hollow. (Even if we accept that the system refocuses students on learning–which I’ll dispute momentarily–it seems like professors always teach to get their students to learn, not to get the best grade.) And there’s no more freedom for “designing metrics of evaluat[ion]” under the new system than there would be under a traditional system that isn’t tied to a curve.

Wow. Tell us what you really think.

One tipster suggests that NYU is just feeling like an old, bald man shopping for a corvette:

NYUs student magazine published an editorial slamming Harvards new grading policy and defending NYUs/Columbias traditional approach, which to me seemed very interesting and a standard pattern in NYUs general inferiority complex.

More kvetching from NYU Law after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “NYU Law Freaks Out Responds To Grade Reform”

Harvard Law School seal logo.jpgLast week we told you that Harvard and Stanford law schools were enacting sweeping grade reform. Reactions came in from students and alumni from many top schools. One close friend emailed:

If Harvard had this when we were in school, I’d be emailing you from DPW right now.

Suffice it to say, the friend emailed from a little further down the Vault list.

But to be clear, HLS doesn’t have anything just yet. Dean Kagan announced, “the new classifications, much as at Yale and Stanford, will be Honors-Pass-Low Pass-Fail.” She did not speak on the crucial question of how honors would be determined.

On the other hand, Stanford did announce precisely how their honors would be determined (“book prizes”). Some commenters criticized the decision because it could not be mapped onto a traditional four-point system:

The important issue with any grading system is whether the grades can be aggregated into one number–the GPA–and the students ranked on that basis. The A-F system is mapped onto the 0-4.0 scale (or 0-8, at HLS, until now). The HP-F system is not mapped onto any numerical scale. This makes it impossible to precisely rank students (without developing your own formula).

HLS could still end up with a four-point system of some description. As one reader pointed out:

Honors = A

Pass = B

Low Pass = C

Fail = Elie

Unless you believe the deans’ quest for “pedagogical excellence,” there is an open question as to why two top institutions would radically change how law students are judged.

Possible answers after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Grade Reform Reaction Roundup”

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.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Stanford Adopts ‘Retroactive’ Honors Policy:
Students Complain In Real Time”

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