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Author Topic: Are law school grading curves reasonable?  (Read 3036 times)

RobWreck

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Are law school grading curves reasonable?
« on: July 04, 2008, 07:32:28 PM »
I've seen several posts that have complained about the fact that law schools grade on a strict curve. Here's a cut-n-paste of one such criticism (with identifying info removed)
"Curve - The curve at (X) was similar to that of (Y).  Unfortunately, the difference between a B+ and C+ was usually only a handful of arbitrary points.  I found it was often the case that I would get every issue, but still get a B on the exam because everyone else also got every issue.  Curves are worthless because they punish a class of very smart people, or reward a dumbass who happens to have stupider classmates.  People should get grades based on what they accomplished or demonstrated, not what other people did.  If the class had a bunch of lazy slackers who learned nothing, they should all get F's. D level work should not get an A just because of a curve."
Personally, I think that the curves that law schools use serve a valid purpose and I think that criticism like this aren't particularly valid. I'd imagine that few schools have classes full of 'lazy slackers' where a curve would "reward a dumbass who happens to have stupider classmates". Has anyone actually had a class filled with stupid classmates? From what I've seen in my first year, many of my classmates were just as determined once they got to school as they were to get in in the first place and all had comparable academic qualifications to my own. Further, without a strictly enforced grading guideline or mandatory curve, grades become far more subjective and schools quickly become subject to grade inflation, which ultimately devalues what it means to get an A. When everyone gets a top mark, is it really that much of an accomplishment? It would be the norm... and therefore not the exceptional performance that a top mark should denote.
Just bringing it up for discussion...
Rob
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jeffislouie

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Re: Are law school grading curves reasonable?
« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2008, 07:49:56 PM »
My feelings are spotty on the matter.
Personally, I don't think that curves make much sense because your individual grade matters less than what everyone else in your class got.  For example, on one final, I got a C+.  When I spoke to the prof, he told me that the same score in his class the previous semester was a B.  So I was dinged a bit because my class was smarter than the previous class.  That's the major downside - instead of giving a letter grade for the work you did, your grade is affected by the other grades students in your class got.  Frankly, I'd rather there was a loose curve where the entire class was a B- average overall, but there was no requirements for a certain number of D's, C-'s C's, etc. which is how some law schools tend to enforce their curves.  So your raw score may be, say, 85% of the answers correct, but because every other student in your class got above 90% of the answers correct, you can end up with a D.  You did solid B work, but because law schools grade in the aggregate instead of individually, you get a low score and end up with potential academic issues and employment problems.
Bear in mind that Med schools and B schools also use curves, but most if not all use a similar curve to what I am describing.
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SASS

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Re: Are law school grading curves reasonable?
« Reply #2 on: July 04, 2008, 08:22:56 PM »
Curve complaints are very annoying to me. My property professor allowed my class to go on about it for 2 days! I was so angry because every minute that past was more wasted money I spent on school. Not only that, but what good does it do? The curve is what it is. Even if it makes your grades lower, your rank is all the matters anyway.

Dwigt

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Re: Are law school grading curves reasonable?
« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2008, 12:46:39 AM »
Grading curves are a necessary evil (unless you're at a school like Yale).  One of the biggest, if not the biggest, priorities for law schools is placing students with big firms.  To effectively do this there has to be some way of ranking students.   By requiring professors to grade to a given standard they are able to rank performance on an exam as well as ensure that students taking the same classes w/ different professors are not unfairly burdened.  For example, at my school there are 3 1L sections and if my prof. decided that none of the class contributed "A" level work while another professor gave out 20 or so A's (while possibly teaching distinctly different material), that would definitely strike me as unfair.  Curves somewhat protect you from the professor having a bad day who just decides that no one "got" his exam and grades accordingly.   

As far as the complaint that the same score equals a B in one year but a C+ in another, you'd have to agree that the professor may do a better job teaching to the exam in one year than another.  However, even in the event that one year is clearly inferior to the other, there still must be a mechanism for ranking students in that year's class (you're not being ranked against every year's law students, just this year's).


rsr28

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Re: Are law school grading curves reasonable?
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2008, 04:01:18 PM »
My feelings are spotty on the matter.
Personally, I don't think that curves make much sense because your individual grade matters less than what everyone else in your class got.  For example, on one final, I got a C+.  When I spoke to the prof, he told me that the same score in his class the previous semester was a B.  So I was dinged a bit because my class was smarter than the previous class.  That's the major downside - instead of giving a letter grade for the work you did, your grade is affected by the other grades students in your class got.  Frankly, I'd rather there was a loose curve where the entire class was a B- average overall, but there was no requirements for a certain number of D's, C-'s C's, etc. which is how some law schools tend to enforce their curves.  So your raw score may be, say, 85% of the answers correct, but because every other student in your class got above 90% of the answers correct, you can end up with a D.  You did solid B work, but because law schools grade in the aggregate instead of individually, you get a low score and end up with potential academic issues and employment problems.
Bear in mind that Med schools and B schools also use curves, but most if not all use a similar curve to what I am describing.


The curve you describe would end up punishing those who did "A" work by forcing prof's to give them lower grades to cancel out the effect of bringing the bottom of the class up to "B" work.

With any system there are going to be problems... the fact is plenty of time and money has been invested by people way smarter than me into figuring out what is the best way to grade law school classes, and this is what has been decided on.  That's good enough for me...

jacy85

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Re: Are law school grading curves reasonable?
« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2008, 09:38:06 AM »
I think curves are necessary to prevent grade inflation and to keep things more standardized among different professors (one property prof can't give an entire 1L section As because he's nice like that while the next section got the bastard property prof who gave all low Bs, etc.).

I don't really have any feelings about the "strict" curve vs. the "loose" curve as jeffislouis seems to describe it.  The curve at my school is, according to that description, "loose" in that all the grades given have to average out to a 3.17, and I thought that was how all curves work.  Therefore, profs do have some discretion - they can give 5 As and then give a couple of C-s, or twice as many straight Cs, etc., or they can give only a couple of As and fewer Cs, etc. 

What I don't like with curves is what lower tiered schools do - set the bar so low so that a good chunk of the class is guaranteed to fail out. 

NoUsername

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Re: Are law school grading curves reasonable?
« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2008, 10:08:11 AM »
Without a curve, class rank would depend solely on which professors you got.  In most schools, this would dictate who makes law review as well.

Matthies

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Re: Are law school grading curves reasonable?
« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2008, 11:26:32 AM »
I donít really have a problem with curves per se, but its seems some are so out to one side or another. Our curve is a 3.0 mean/median, Iím OK with that. But a 2.4 curve is serious grade deflation, and some of the top schools with 3.4 curves are serious grade inflation, I mean a mean/median curve to A-, just write your name on the exam and you got a B+  ;D
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gershonw

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Re: Are law school grading curves reasonable?
« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2008, 12:58:40 PM »
curves=good.
curves based on 1 test=bad.

Curves are good becuase they
a) allow the best students (and probably best work producrers) to the employers who are willing to offer the most (in money or future prestige for them).  (protect employers and the economy)
b) they protect students from randomness in  grading. (protect students)

curves based on 1 test are bad becuase they
a) don't offer a good enough gauge of the the best students, so that the highest ranks are not reliably enought the best students and hence will not reliably enough have the best work product.  The more tests and assignments that contribute to the grade, the less likely a grade is a 'fluke' of one day (the flu, a break up, etc.. etc..).  True, there is more than one grade, but a week of the flu could be 1/6 of your gpa down the drain. (the 1  test system does little to protect employers looking to make sure they have the best)
b) don't protect students from randomness in grading. True, there is more than one grade, but a week of the flu could be 1/6 of your gpa down the drain. (the 1  test system does little to protect employers looking to make sure they have the best) (don't protect students).

so the current system is good and bad for the exact same reasons.  I'm not sure why we insist on the one test system.  the only thing I can think of is that professors don't want to grade more and that this has always been the way its done.  Back when all students from law school were almost guaranteed jobs becuase there weren't too many lawyers for the market-it didnt really matter so much.  Now its a big deal what your grades are-you might not even be able to get a legal job after law school-yet law schools don't want to change the 1 test system.

(Some might argue that 1 test is a good way to prepare for the practice, where you don't get a second chance. this argument is bad becuase, a) your next chance is your next case-assuming your mistake didn't amount to malpractice b) we let people take the bar or LSAT, the most important tests-pretty much as many time as they like c) most students don't go directly into practice alone at first.)

of course-anyone making the above argument is sometimes (not always) lumped in with those who don't like curves-so this argument isn't heard as often.

oh and i agree with jacy85 that schools who make a curve so that X% must mathematically be below the level needed not to stay in are pretty much vulchers.  Schools should not accept vastly more people than they intend to graduate and then kick them out after taking their (borrowed on future earnings from law school education) money.

pickle

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Re: Are law school grading curves reasonable?
« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2008, 02:27:32 PM »
any thoughts on curved penises?