Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Making the Grades

The New York Times reports that at least ten law schools have raised their grade curves in the last two years. The new rationale for this timeworn response is that students need a competitive edge in a tight job market and higher gpa, however contrived, is just the thing. Ironically, by outing the culprit law schools, the New York Times has probably reversed any advantage their students might have reaped from the sudden lift in gpas.

The premise that a law school can give its graduates the edge in the job market simply by raising their gpas across the board is offensive. Rank in class and rank of law school provide much more useful comparative data than gpa, so the premise that higher gpas, all other things equal, will translate into more job opportunities is dubious. Even assuming that raising the grade curve for all students yields a benefit among a segment of the market (gpa fetishists), the benefit to students at a particular school is at best a wash. Students with otherwise lackluster gpas benefit at the expense of the top of the class who find it increasingly difficult and pointless to distinguish themselves from their peers. If everybody is special as a matter of law school policy, why bother with the time consuming ritual of studying?

Raising the grade curve may make a law faculty feel compassionate in the short run. But all it really accomplishes is to make the faculty less relevant to the market as an evaluator of relative quality. Expert faculty differentiation among students (via competitively awarded grades) is a huge part of what makes a JD valuable. If the market doesn’t perceive any meaningful differentiation among students on the basis of the grades we assign, we’ll be out of business in the blink of an eye. At the very least, we won’t be worth our current salaries.

Two things remain true regardless of the winds of grade inflation. I’d hire someone with a C+ in Corporate Tax over another with an A in (fluff of your choice) any day of the week. And, all students want A’s until the day everybody gets them.

3 comments:

Buce said...

Re my corporate-tax-teaching colleague: I have been telling students for years that nobody who takes his course ever flunks the baxr.

kuyr53e said...

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shorter college georgia said...

Thank you for sharing this information. I believe that increasing gpas will help the students get edge in the job marker but their knowledge and skills will help them get ahead of others.