Grade inflation at Georgetown Law meant to help students

Following a trend in law schools across the country, Georgetown Law faculty adopted a less-taxing grading curve last winter.

The revised grading curve, which retroactively applied to the fall 2009 semester, makes it easier for law students to receive higher grades. For example, 31 percent of each class share is now allocated for A and A-minus grades, as opposed to 25 percent under the old curve.

In a December 2009 memo to the Georgetown Law Student Bar Association, Patrick Hughes (L’10), William Broderick-Villa (L’11), and Rachel Fersh (L’10) argued that the adjustment was long overdue.

“[T]he grading curve had not been adjusted to reflect the rising quality of our students since 1994,” they wrote. “The Curriculum & Academic Standards student-faculty committee recommended these changes to the faculty based in part on the curves from other schools and also based on faculty members’ feelings about the rising level of student performance.”

According to New York Times reporter Catherine Rampell, many law schools recently enacted lenient grading systems in order to make students appear attractive to potential employers.

“Law schools seem to view higher grades as one way to rescue their students from the tough economic climate — and perhaps more to the point, to protect their own reputations and rankings,” Rampell wrote.

Too bad the inflated grades didn’t seem to help the Class of 2010’s job prospects.

After the jump, we’ve got the entire memo about the grading curve.

To:          Georgetown Law Student Bar Association

From:    Patrick Hughes, William Broderick-Villa & Rachel Fersh
Student members, Curriculum & Academic Standards Committee

Date:     December 2, 2009

Re:         Equalizing the Grading Curve

The Georgetown Law faculty today unanimously passed an updated grading curve for the Law Center.  This curve will go into effect immediately and will affect the grades students will receive for this semester in addition to future ones.  This change only impacts classes with exams (not seminars, clinics, etc.).

Over the past 20 years, LSAT scores for entering GULC students have jumped from 165 to 170, and the undergraduate GPA has risen from 3.54 to 3.68.  However, the grading curve had not been adjusted to reflect the rising quality of our students since 1994.  The Curriculum & Academic Standards student-faculty committee recommended these changes to the faculty based in part on the curves from other schools and also based on faculty members’ feelings about the rising level of student performance.

Below is a summary of the new grading curve in comparison with the former curve.

Current Curve (12/2/09)
Grade Class Share
A 12%
A- 19%
B+ 28%
B 31%-36%
B- and below 5%-10%
Previous Curve
Grade Class Share
A 10%
A- 15%
B+ 25%
B 30%
B- 15%
C+ and below 5%

There will also be a new, optional A+ grade that faculty members have the discretion (but are not required) to give for truly outstanding performance.  Faculty members are not expected to give out an “A+” in each class (in other words, it likely will be rarer than a “best exam” award).  The current 4.0 grading scale will not change, however, and the A+ will be worth a weight of 4.0.  The committee decided not to follow the practice of our peer institutions, most of which grade on a 4.3 scale.  Transcripts now will include a notation that GPAs are calculated on a 4.0 scale, in order to prevent confusion.

We would especially like to express gratitude to Professor Lazarus, the Chair of the Curriculum and Academic Standards Committee, and Dean O’Neil for all of their sensitivity to student interests and hard work in ensuring the new policy was passed expediently.  We would also like to thank the rest of the members of the committee: Professors Chris Brummer, Michael Cedrone, Craig Hoffman, and Jane Stromseth for their hard work and significant input.

Photo from Flickr user umjanedoan used under a Creative Commons license.

2 Comments on “Grade inflation at Georgetown Law meant to help students

  1. A few things:

    First, the Class of 2010 doesn’t really benefit from those grade increases (neither do any of those who have already graduated). The curve only came into effect as of the fall semester, so any benefit job-wise for the private sector was probably useless. Most people attempt to get firm jobs through Early Interview Week, which occurs during students’ 2L years (most of these firms don’t hire 3Ls from EIW, and it is harder to get in thereafter, which is part of the worries people have with the market right now). So, you really can’t use those difficulties in getting jobs to knock this curve. The only ones who truly benefit from it 100% (theoretically) are the Class of 2012. The Class of 2011’s 1L grades were not readjusted to reflect the curve changes. The ones in the most difficult position are the part-time students who are doing EIW this year, but I think that was being addressed to a point (it may not be, though).

    Second, any benefit that does come from this grade increase depends on how the firms look at it. If they are all aware of it and take it into account, there is no real win. But if they just look at the hard GPA number, then yes, it does look better. The rankings, obviously, were affected somewhat, but that is not dispositive. The result remains to be seen.

  2. The above poster makes an excellent point about the curve disadvantaging those students who started in the part-time program in the fall of 2008, but will go through on-campus interviewing in August, 2010, with the class of 2012. The curve change was not made retroactive, so those part time students who will graduate in 2012 were put at a competitive disadvantage for early interview week. No remedy was offered to part time students. The significance of the curve change can be viewed here:

    Further, part time students graduating in 2012 will continue be negatively impacted by the curve change, because they will compete with the day division class of 2012 for graduation honors, but will have taken 24-30 credits (an entire academic year) under the older, harsher curve.

    It is disappointing and alarming that the students who masterminded the curve change did not even consider the impact the change would have on part time students. At least one of the students mentioned on the press release above, Ms. Fersh, began in the part time program before transferring t the day division, so the oversight on her part is particularly grievous.

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