Friday, April 02, 2010

Loyola Marymount raises all law student grades

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Loyola Law School Los Angeles (aka Loyola Marymount) is modifying their grading system to help their students be more competitive and better reflect the quality of their students. That means they are raising all the student grades by a third of a grade point, magically transforming A into A+, B- into B, and so forth. Dean Victor J. Gold is quoted:

"We concluded that the grading curve was sending incorrect information about our students, and, frankly, it was putting them at an unfair competitive disadvantage in a pretty tough job market," he said.

Stuart Rojstaczer, a retired Duke University professor who has studied grade inflation and created an online database about it, said that changes like Loyola's can open more job opportunities for students.

"There are employers that have GPA cutoffs," he said, "and by inflating grades, you increase the number of students who meet those GPA cutoffs."

Mr. Rojstaczer, who was an associate professor of earth and ocean sciences at Duke, is a co-author of a recent article, "Grading in American Colleges and Universities," (link here for full text of article for $15.00; or, a very rich website maintained by Rojstaczer which has much related information)that analyzed grading patterns since the 1960s. The article—written with Christopher Healy, an associate professor of computer science at Furman University, and published last month in Teachers College Record—noted an overall increase of about a tenth of a point in average GPA's per decade.

Loyola's change will affect current students and alumni who graduated in 2007 or later—the classes that received grades based on a letter-grade system beginning in 2004. Before 2004, the law school operated under a numerical grading system.

Mr. Gold announced the faculty's approval of the new grading system in a memorandum to students last month. That memo found its way onto several blogs this week, including Above the Law and NPR's Planet Money, where it was greeted with considerable skepticism.

But Mr. Gold defended the revised grading curve as more accurately reflecting the institution's academic rigor. Indicators show that its students are "among the highest-quality students," the dean said. With a passage rate of 85 percent among students taking the bar exam last summer, the law school ranked seventh out of the 20 California law schools approved by the American Bar Association.

Although employers often gauge law students' academic achievement based on their class rank, Mr. Gold said, some governmental agencies will not consider hiring students with less than a B average.

"And when you start out your students with an average of B-, which is what our old first-year grade average was, you automatically exclude them from employment with those agencies," he said.

"We're not trying to make them look better than other comparable students at other schools. We just want them to be on an even playing field."
The image of the guys inflating a balloon is courtesy of Oregon State University. Just seemed appropriate. I'm afraid Above the Law is rather harsh about the decision:
Loyola students are having difficulty getting jobs. In response, did the administration consider dropping tuition? Nope. Instead, they just gave everybody an extra third of a grade — retroactively, no less. That’s not just inflation; that’s a rewriting of history.

Really, are employers out there going to fall for this? Loyola hopes so….

I’m happy — I’m thrilled, even — that law school administrations are noticing their graduates cannot get jobs in this economy. Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards correcting the problem. But of all the things a school might do to help students get jobs, artificially inflating grades retroactively seems like the most shallow and cosmetic “solution” possible.

Loyola’s rationales for the change are that, I don’t know, (1) somehow its students are just as accomplished as kids at more highly-ranked California law schools, and (2) an easier grading curve reflects a higher-quality student body (snip)
It descends from there into high snark, so you'll have to go read it for yourself -- it's highly entertaining and makes you hope devoutly that YOUR law school (or one you care about) never gets highlighted in ATL!

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