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Author Topic: Pass/Fail Grades  (Read 2258 times)

ljaba

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Pass/Fail Grades
« on: January 05, 2011, 10:35:14 PM »
Hey - what does everyone out there think about how some law schools are implementing pass/fail grades instead of letter grades to decrease the competitive atmosphere?

I know NYU, Georgetown, Tulane and USC have switched in recent years, and about half a dozen others but not sure which ones exactly.

I think that's a good way to move away from the whole over-focus on grades, but at the same time, how do you judge candidates for jobs? And doesn't that make people work less hard?

john4040

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Re: Pass/Fail Grades
« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2011, 03:00:40 PM »
Hey - what does everyone out there think about how some law schools are implementing pass/fail grades instead of letter grades to decrease the competitive atmosphere?

I know NYU, Georgetown, Tulane and USC have switched in recent years, and about half a dozen others but not sure which ones exactly.

I think that's a good way to move away from the whole over-focus on grades, but at the same time, how do you judge candidates for jobs? And doesn't that make people work less hard?

You're confusing the Pass/fail grading system with "grade inflation," or you're wrongly lumping the two together.  Although they are both types of general "grade reform," they should not be lumped together when considering the effect on competition because inflation essentially maintains the status quo by retaining the GPA system but bumping GPA up across the board.

GULC and Tulane are not on the P/F system (but they have recently inflated grades): 
http://abovethelaw.com/2009/12/harvard-law-and-georgetown-law-make-grading-easier/#more-2214
http://abovethelaw.com/2010/06/tulane-the-latest-school-to-adopt-grade-reform/#more-21068

There always will be a focus on grades (or some other similar indicator) because the employers need a way to distinguish students.  The best indicator of legal ability for summer associates is their law school performance.  Employers put pressure on law schools to maintain a method whereby students can be distinguished, therefore, unless the schools can come up with a better system for indicating legal ability, the employers will not accept the change and the schools will not abandon the GPA system (schools will not risk alienating legal employers because (1) the employers can look elsewhere, and (2) the school risks taking a hit to its endowment).  Take Harvard, for example.  Although Harvard has moved to a "pass/fail" system, it is not a "pure" pass/fail system.  Harvard still has "high pass" (HP) and "low pass" (LP) grades.  Employers closely scrutinize how many HP or LP a student has, students within the same school focus on their performance relative to others in their law school class, and therefore, competition is virtually unaltered.  Even Yale doesn't have a "pure" P/F system: First-semester first-year students are graded on a pure P/F system, however, their remaining two and a half years are graded on an Honors/Pass/Low Pass/Fail system.

Whether competition is altered between students at schools implementing a P/F system and those implementing the standard GPA system is the more important question.  I'm not sure how the correlation plays out, but your best bet for information would be from a hiring partner who routinely compares those types of students.

Morten Lund

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Re: Pass/Fail Grades
« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2011, 10:46:59 PM »
Even Yale doesn't have a "pure" P/F system: First-semester first-year students are graded on a pure P/F system, however, their remaining two and a half years are graded on an Honors/Pass/Low Pass/Fail system.


That may be technically correct, but I am not aware that any LP has ever been handed out, nor an F (other than to people who didn't show up for the exam, and even then only after much discussion).  According to legend, a new professor once tried to fail a student (who took the exam), but the dean told him he couldn't.

YLS basically operates on a "pass/honors" system, and honors are given out arbitrarily by professors without any consistent standards.  The YLS system is locally known as "pass/pass."

john4040

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Re: Pass/Fail Grades
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2011, 01:55:46 PM »
Even Yale doesn't have a "pure" P/F system: First-semester first-year students are graded on a pure P/F system, however, their remaining two and a half years are graded on an Honors/Pass/Low Pass/Fail system.


That may be technically correct, but I am not aware that any LP has ever been handed out, nor an F (other than to people who didn't show up for the exam, and even then only after much discussion).  According to legend, a new professor once tried to fail a student (who took the exam), but the dean told him he couldn't.

YLS basically operates on a "pass/honors" system, and honors are given out arbitrarily by professors without any consistent standards.  The YLS system is locally known as "pass/pass."

What do you base your conclusion that YLS "honors are given out arbitrarily by professors without any consistent standards" on? 

Thane Messinger

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Re: Pass/Fail Grades
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2011, 02:50:29 PM »
There always will be a focus on grades (or some other similar indicator) because the employers need a way to distinguish students.  The best indicator of legal ability for summer associates is their law school performance.  Employers put pressure on law schools to maintain a method whereby students can be distinguished, therefore, unless the schools can come up with a better system for indicating legal ability, the employers will not accept the change and the schools will not abandon the GPA system (schools will not risk alienating legal employers because (1) the employers can look elsewhere, and (2) the school risks taking a hit to its endowment).  Take Harvard, for example.  Although Harvard has moved to a "pass/fail" system, it is not a "pure" pass/fail system.  Harvard still has "high pass" (HP) and "low pass" (LP) grades.  Employers closely scrutinize how many HP or LP a student has, students within the same school focus on their performance relative to others in their law school class, and therefore, competition is virtually unaltered.  Even Yale doesn't have a "pure" P/F system: First-semester first-year students are graded on a pure P/F system, however, their remaining two and a half years are graded on an Honors/Pass/Low Pass/Fail system.


Good points.  There's an old saying: "The A's will teach, while the B's will work for the C's."  [And this saying was back when the "A" grade was for the top 4 percent of the class, not 10% or, for many undergraduate programs now, 25% or more.]

From employers' perspectives, YHS mean "honors."  To a lesser degree, so do the rest of the top schools, in (steeply) cascading groupings.  Within each batch, employers differentiate those who can accomplish their goals.  Those goals aren't "intellectual" (very much not), but they do require qualities: intelligence, diligence, thoroughness, and organization.  Grades reflect these qualities.

The higher the stakes (such as with clients at national firms), the more insistent employers will be.  Thus, while grade inflation certainly feels nice, in the end employers reset their standards.  And with pass/fail, other indicators come to the fore.

Thane.


Morten Lund

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Re: Pass/Fail Grades
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2011, 10:13:06 PM »
What do you base your conclusion that YLS "honors are given out arbitrarily by professors without any consistent standards" on?

Well, if there were any standards, I was never able to divine them.  :)

But more seriously, I seem to recall being told quite specifically that there were no required grade allocations or set standards by which grades were given.  And there was quite a bit of variation between professors.  Some professors notoriously gave very few honors (if any at all), while others would hand them out quite liberally.  So any standards that may have been in place certainly were not applied.