Monday, June 21, 2010

"Spinal Tap" Grade Inflation in Law Schools



NY TIMES -- "One day next month every student at Loyola Law School Los Angeles will awake to a higher grade point average. But it’s not because they are all working harder. The school is retroactively inflating its grades, tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years. The goal is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.

In the last two years, at least 10 law schools have deliberately changed their grading systems to make them more lenient. These include law schools like New York University and Georgetown, as well as Golden Gate University and Tulane University, which just announced the change this month. Some recruiters at law firms keep track of these changes and consider them when interviewing, and some do not.

Law schools seem to view higher grades as one way to rescue their students from the tough economic climate — and perhaps more to the point, to protect their own reputations and rankings. Once able to practically guarantee gainful employment to thousands of students every year, the schools are now fielding complaints from more and more unemployed graduates, frequently drowning in student debt."

HT: Michael Kelly

15 Comments:

At 6/21/2010 11:25 PM, Blogger Marko said...

When I was at George Mason School of Law in the mid 90s, they were doing the opposite of this. Grading on a C+ rated curve. They wanted an A to mean something and it did, at least to us.

I think class rank means much more than GPA in law school, and this will be even more the case going forward, it seems.

 
At 6/22/2010 8:05 AM, Blogger juandos said...

So what happens to these Loyola Law graduates when the firms that hire them find out they aren't as smart as the 'new & improved' grades make them out to be?

 
At 6/22/2010 8:30 AM, Anonymous morganovich said...

this trend is even worse with undergrads. my old girlfriend was doing a fellowship at stanford and was teaching a couple of sections of an english class as a result. she was told by the senior professor that any grades below A- needed to be explained directly to him as "all of our students are A students" and high GPA is needed for successful grad school applications and acceptances to top grad schools reflect well on stanford.

pretty much makes GPA useless.

something like 90% of harvard degrees some with honors. this means if you have a harvard degree without honors, you really blew it.

http://www.highschooljournalism.org/Students/Ask_A_Pro/Article.cfm?articleId=182

 
At 6/22/2010 9:46 AM, Anonymous Rand said...

Perhaps they should cut .333 from all the GPAs. The last thing we need is more lawyers. The world might be better served if they all got honest work.

 
At 6/22/2010 11:35 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Are grades supposed to be a measurement of how well you compare to your classmates or an objective outcome measurement to some criteria? It's possible for an entire class of students to earn an "A" and or a "B" if they meet a rational standard. How could you justify giving less than a "B" to anyone in the class if the entire class earns 80%+ on a test given by a third party that requires a score of 70% to pass?

I can see how entire classes at Harvard could get an "A" if they are being compared to the general academic population instead of their classmates. Maybe it should be that way. Which is better: Being ranked bottom in your class at Harvard or top in your class at Minnesota State University?

 
At 6/23/2010 7:30 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Well apparently Loyola Law isn't the only school giving a pass on reality to its students...

Consider the following from the American Thinker: The ultimate lawyer joke

'Harvard and Stanford, two of the top-ranked law schools, recently eliminated traditional grading altogether. Like Yale and the University of California, Berkeley, they now use a modified pass/fail system, reducing the pressure that law schools are notorious for. This new grading system also makes it harder for employers to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, which means more students can get a shot at a competitive interview'...

 
At 6/23/2010 10:50 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

juandos,

Pass or fail is a great concept, and it is the way all professional and other licensing works. What grade did you get on your driver's license?

Why is it a college instructor's job to screen the labor force for an HR department? Let them come up with their own criterion of what they are looking for in an employee.

 
At 6/23/2010 12:47 PM, Anonymous Eric H said...

Walt said:

"Why is it a college instructor's job to screen the labor force for an HR department?"

Great question and I agree with you. However, in my state the larger corporations are heavily involved in "helping" advise our governor as to what they need for our state college graduates to attain to be acceptable recruits. So the colleges become their management training program. I.e., do you want your child to become a Wal-Mart manager or a Sam Walton? The state is training managers.

 
At 6/23/2010 2:02 PM, Anonymous morganovich said...

walt-

if every student at harvard gets a 4.0 and honors, how are we supposed to tell them apart?

how do you even get a valedictorian?

the whole purpose of grades is to measure success or failure. if "A" is the result of either, then what's the point? you need to rank a class. not doing so is unfair to those who do achieve and overly generous to those who don't. why should someone doing work inferior to mine get the same grades and honors? grades exist for stratification. it it their raison d'etre. pass fail is just a hidey hole for underachievers. life is NOT pass fail like a driver's license exam. in the real world, how much you achieve matter. outperforming your peers matters (though perhaps not to union employees). you don't raise kids pass fail; you try to do as well as possible, not hit some bare sufficiency.

additionally, your notion of grading relative to the general student population has a fatal flaw: how does a harvard professor know what kind of work Umass students are turning in? a professor is only familiar with the work being done at his own institution.

 
At 6/23/2010 4:57 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

morganovich,

You tell them apart because they went to Harvard. How does bronze in the Olympics sound to you? As someone who grades to about 10 or 12 well-reasoned student learning outcomes, I don’t have a problem giving everyone an “A” or a “B” if they tested proficient in the outcomes as spelled out in the syllabus handed out the first night of class. If people meet clearly delineated expectations, they should earn that grade regardless of what others in the class do. How can you say grades are earned from an individual’s effort and then grade on a curve? I see that as a contradiction.

Is it my job to rank students in the class for employers or bragging rights, or to teach them the material they need to be successful as determined by industry and licensing agencies? I don’t care how someone else tells them apart.

The difference between an "A" and a "C", at least in my classes, can be the result of having a bad day or maybe a sick kid they had to stay up all night with the day before the final exam. Which person would you hire: A student who worked his butt off and came to class everyday and earned a C or a student who just shows up on test day and gets an A? I am not saying grades are not a relevant performance factor. I am saying that success can be measured using multiple criteria.

Your union slams are getting a bit old, and your arguments are much stronger without the personal attacks. Do I detect jealousy? You would be surprised at the educational attainment level and superior leadership skills in our union ranks. Some of our guys are even smart enough to know that sentences typically start with a capital letter; however, I don’t judge people on such trivial matters.

 
At 6/24/2010 4:08 AM, Blogger bob wright said...

It sounds to me like they ought to rename the law school "Loyola Law School - Lake Wobegon" - where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.

 
At 6/24/2010 4:13 AM, Blogger bob wright said...

This reminds me of the old joke

Q: "What do you call the guy who got C's is med school?

A: Doctor

 
At 6/24/2010 4:22 AM, Blogger bob wright said...

Q: If the HR department should screen the labor force, should it not also pay for performance rather than pay everyone the same wage regardless of performance? Otherwise, what's the point of screening?

Should the car salesman who sells one Chevy Silverado be paid the same as the salesman who sells 10 Silverados?

 
At 6/24/2010 6:07 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

A college instructor's job is not comparable to an employer's job. Is selling someone a shovel to dig a hole the same as them digging the hole? I will provide someone with the tools to do the job; however, how he uses the tools for someone else is not my concern. We each have our job to do. Cream rises to the top.

The amount of time spent on trying to separate an “A” student from a “B” student is time that is not spent teaching and learning. I believe that is what economists call "opportunity cost". How many hours do you want to take away from a class that meets 30 hours discussing grades?

I track performance at the class level, but I don't at the individual level until I have to turn in their grades. All students want to pass, but grades "A" to "D" are irrelevant to me because I don't know what grade the student wants to earn.

Just last semester, I had a student almost hit me because he received an "A-" instead of an "A". A little while later, a student came into class late and wanted to know his grade and smiled a toothless grin when I told him he had a "D+". That's just another day as a college instructor.

 
At 6/24/2010 8:24 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"Pass or fail is a great concept, and it is the way all professional and other licensing works"...

Where does this happen Walt G?

"What grade did you get on your driver's license?"...

According to the lady working the counter I got a 95 (missed one of 20) and one couldn't do less than an 80 to pass the written...

"Why is it a college instructor's job to screen the labor force for an HR department?"...

Who said it was Walt G?

"Let them come up with their own criterion of what they are looking for in an employee"...

Ever heard of the EEOC?

 

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