Harvard Law Changes Grading Policy

<p>Harvard Law has changed its grading policy effective wth the entering class of 2009 so it is more aligined with the grading policy at Yale Law and the recently changed grading policy at Stanford law.</p>

<p>Dean Elena Kagan just sent this message out to the HLS student body:</p>

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To all students: </p>

<p>I am writing to let you know that the faculty decided yesterday to move to a grading system with fewer classifications than we have now. The new classifications, much as at Yale and Stanford, will be Honors-Pass-Low Pass-Fail. The faculty believes that this decision will promote pedagogical excellence and innovation and further strengthen the intellectual community in which we all live. The new system will apply to students entering HLS in fall 2009; yet to be determined is whether it also will apply to some or all classes of current students.</p>

<p>The faculty began consideration of this issue last year, and has consulted with groups of students, alumni, and other employers in the course of our discussions. Before making a decision on whether to implement the system now, for all or some of our current students, I want to make sure that any interested student has a chance to express his or her views. To provide this opportunity, I will hold a "town hall" meeting on Thursday, October 2 from 2:30 to 3:30 in Austin North. I look forward to seeing you some of you there.</p>

<p>Best,
Elena Kagan</p>

<p>Above</a> the Law - A Legal Tabloid - News, Gossip, and Colorful Commentary on Law Firms and the Legal Profession - Not To Be Left Behind, Harvard Changes Grading System Too</p>

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<p>The crucial question is whether this new system will be applied retroactively to the classes of 2009 and 2010. If I were in either of those classes, I'd stop worrying about the economy and show up for the debate, on October 2nd.</p>

<p>Stanford Law School Approves Grade Reform</p>

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From: Larry D Kramer</p>

<p>Date: Thu, May 29, 2008 at 11:27 AM
Subject: Grade Reform
Dear All:</p>

<p>Yesterday afternoon, the 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.</p>

<p>As you may know, we spent all year studying the issue and discussing the likely advantages for recruiting students, placing our graduates in practice and clerkships, reducing the disparity between on-mean and off-mean courses, and, above all, enhancing the intellectual environment of the law school. I am extremely grateful for the student input we received, not only from the student liaison committee but from countless others who wrote emails, met with faculty, and spoke with me directly. We benefited immensely from your contributions.</p>

<p>Yesterday, the faculty agreed only on the basic proposal. We have not yet voted on the timing of our transition to the new system or a number of other details. For now, then, the decision does not and should not affect your course planning or anything else. We are working to settle the transition questions as quickly as possible and will inform you as soon as they have been resolved.</p>

<p>Best,
Larry</p>

<p>Above</a> the Law - A Legal Tabloid - News, Gossip, and Colorful Commentary on Law Firms and the Legal Profession - Stanford Law School Approves Grade Reform: Rejoice?

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<p>I was interested to hear about this a few months ago because there were a number of law schools with Honors-Pass-Fail kinds of grading policies about 15-20 years ago, and the vast majority of them changed over to the A-B-C more traditional grading systems to make their students more competitive in the clerkship application process. I believe that the feedback from judges was that it was much tougher to discern what a H-P-F grade meant from school to school versus what an A-B-C great meant. Therefore, schools made the switch.</p>

<p>It will be interesting to see what happens as a result of the change.</p>

<p>IMO the H-P-F system is the same thing as the A-B-C system only instead of calling grades A/B/C they call them H/P/LP.</p>

<p>A truly different system would simply be a simple pass-fail system.</p>

<p>That's not the only difference, though.</p>

<p>An H-P-F style system allows for very few distinctions between students. For example, the old Penn Law system had three grades: Excellent, Good and Fair, with students failing as necessary. There was a strictly enforced curve where 20% of each class received "Excellent" grades, 40% of each class received "Good" grades and 40% of each class received "Fair" grades. However, to the extent that a good number of students tended to receive mostly "E" and "G" grades, it was difficult to differentiate among students, and even more difficult for judges to understand that a "G" grade was not a huge negative on one's transcript (and, in fact, typically only 0-5 students per class received all "E" grades in their 1L year).</p>

<p>An A-B-C system, with all of the "plus" and "minus" grades, allows for professors to distinguish between A, B and C students (even if 20% of a class gets "A" grades, 40% gets "B" grades and 40% gets "C" grades) by using plusses and minuses. </p>

<p>I don't have a strong belief that one system is better than the other, but I do know that the original reason for the change was the expressed preference for the latter system (As, Bs and Cs) by judges. I'm sure that Stanford and Harvard did their diligence with judges and made their decisions accordingly, but this is simply a step back to a system that already came and went.</p>

<p>There is a reason that within academia, there is the saying "the Harvard Curve".</p>