In support of the strict C

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 22, 2010 in The 2L Life | Subscribe

Tonight’s post is another one of those cut-and-paste “Don’t have time to provide you with any incisive analysis” type entries :beatup:

The writers up at the New York Times seem to have finally realized that grade inflation is rampant in law schools, a problem noted regularly by the good folks over at Above the Law. The piece, titled “In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That”, highlights the retroactive inflation taking place at Loyola Law and other law schools to “make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market” — since employment is a significant factor in the US News’s law school rankings. ((The rankings are, in my opinion at least, worthless bullsh*t.))

I realize I’m probably in the minority here, given the modern push toward this “Everyone’s a winner! Let’s all hold hands and sing kumbayah!” mentality, but I’m personally a big fan of the strict-C curve we use at NCCU Law. Setting the middle grade in the middle of the grading scale (cue the :eek: faces) provides law professors with a full range of options to give you — and gives you the student a full range of feedback so you know where you’re weak and need to improve.

Consider my grades from the Spring semester. Clearly, Contracts is not my thing (at all). CrimLaw, on the other hand, might be.

Yet if we used the B+ median common among T1 institutions, my grades for both classes would be pretty close. There’s certainly more of a “you suck at this” signal sent when you’ve got a C in one class compared to an A- in the other, versus an inflated B+ compared to an inflated A.

It doesn’t look like grade deflation will ever happen if the data is any guide. And God knows my non-inflated grades won’t be netting me any NLJ250 jobs any time soon. But my lingering 1L naïveté tells me I’m going to be better off being given the brutally honest assessment of my deficiencies rather than being deigned competent by the retroactive stroke of a Dean’s pen.

Read the article at your leisure, and feel free to share your thoughts :) Until then have a good night! :D

==> New York Times: In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That

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Jun 23, 2010 at 7:22 AM

I’m going to disagree.

The “strict”-C curve ignores the fact that it’s entirely possible that *nobody* in the class sucks at the given topic. I think at most institutions grades are less about signaling anything to the student but more about signaling to external evaluators (employers) how the student is performing 1) relative to law students at the school, and (on a less consistent scale) 2) relative to law students at other schools. It is entirely possible that everyone at Columbia is crazy smart and that a “C” would not be an accurate representation of anyone’s performance. That said, even in a strict B+ system, professors still can give the full range of grades, since it is typically a median system — it is admittedly rare, but I’ve heard of 2.x’s doled out in the T14.

The formula for Vault25 employers is almost exclusively based on just a few factors, of which school & GPA are weighted heavily. It’s the same throughout the Vault & NLJ rankings, just they go deeper into the class & deeper into the US News rankings, reflecting their relative status among firms. The whole point of attending law school is to get a job, and if the school actually hurts your chances of doing so despite your relative performance, then it can AND should consider ways to reflect performance that don’t have this effect.


[…] blogs about the rampant grade inflation across law schools, and defends NCCU’s (his school) C curve. He claims that the C curve compared to the typical B+ curve seen at law schools allow for more […]

Jun 24, 2010 at 12:20 AM

@Va.: I understand where you’re coming from, but I’m not comfortable with some of your premises. For example, *is* the whole point of attending law school just to get a job? Or is it to become minimally proficient in the law?

I suppose it can be argued that they’re functionally the same thing since you can’t have the former without the latter (and from a practical standpoint we know why 99.999% of us are going through this). But part of me also would prefer being proficient yet temporarily unemployed versus having a job that I’m not entirely competent to perform.

My bigger concern is that the inflationary setup encourages “innovation” in grading… which just seems like it would continue to a point where the grades themselves are functionally meaningless.

Suppose for example that Duke Law decides tomorrow to retroactively recenter its median to an A- and all Duke Law grads get a bump of ~.333 per class (except at the top end since you can’t go higher than an A+), all in the name of providing a competitive edge to its students. Those Duke Law grads get an advantage for at most one academic/employment year before other schools follow suit. Over time you get to the point where practically everyone has an A or A- in everything, or people switch to the nonsensical Harvard-style “Honors / Pass / Low Pass / Fail” (which to me looks functionally identical to A/B/C/F).

If we’re assigning labels to grades like most of us had in K-12 — where C is by definition “average”, A is “superior”, etc — then even in the Columbia class you cited a C is perfectly acceptable for the students who were in the middle of the bell curve for that given class.

Under the current model every school has an incentive to get creative with their grades, which will temporarily inure to the benefit of that school’s students — but which also, I’d argue, leads to a decline in competence in the aggregate.

1L spoiler alert « Maybe So, Maybe No
Jun 29, 2010 at 12:57 AM

[…] on a B curve (an 84.5 plus or minus 1/2 point, to be exact). I was highly concerned after reading T. Dot’s post on his school’s strict C-curve, but Ricky’s rebuttal assured me that there may be hope […]

Jul 5, 2010 at 10:43 PM

I think your argument about having a C curve to have grades spread over the full spectrum is a good one. The problem is that the legal industry is extremely driven by prestige and elitism. As long as top firms are only recruiting a certain calibre of students as defined by their GPAs, law schools will continue inflating grades to maintain their ability to employ current students and thus attract more of the top law school applicants. It’s a vicious cycle.


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