• April 20, 2014

A California Law School Will Raise All Students' Grades

Current students and recent graduates of Loyola Law School Los Angeles will soon see their grade-point averages climb by one-third of a point.

The school is modifying its grading system, its dean, Victor J. Gold, said on Thursday, to help students remain competitive with graduates of other California law schools, which it believes already grade on a higher curve. Each of the current letter-based grades at Loyola will be raised one step, bringing an A- to an A, and an A to an A+, for example.

Mr. Gold said the new curve would better represent the academic quality of the law school's graduates, compared with those of other schools.

"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," 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."


1. dank48 - April 02, 2010 at 08:38 am

Good Lord.

2. ksledge - April 02, 2010 at 08:50 am

I think this sounds ridiculous...on the other hand, most law schools have a B/B+ average, so if the average really was B-, the school was doing its students some harm.

3. norwood - April 02, 2010 at 09:31 am

# 2: Not if 85% of the class is passing the bar...one of the toughest bars in the country.

4. fullprof99 - April 02, 2010 at 10:00 am

OOh. Grade inflation on purpose.
This actually may be justified here, but we could undo grade inflation pretty quickly by eliminating all plus and minus grades. I think the plusses and minues are what really led to grade inflation, with profs being able to say, "Well, it really isn't an 'A' but I can call it 'A-' or 'B+.'" Do away with the plusses and minuses and we would have:

A = Excellent
B = Good
C = Acceptable
D = Marginal
E or F = Failing

If there were a Federal Truth in Grading Act this would be what I would recommend.

5. srojstaczer - April 02, 2010 at 10:23 am

For what it's worth, I really did think that this was an April Fool's joke when I was called by the reporter. I was just playing along with her I thought. I had to hold back my laughter. I even sent her an email after to try to get confirmation that it was an April Fool's joke.

But it wasn't.

I wasn't the only one who thought this wasn't real. The CHE originally thought the Loyola Law School announcement was an April Fool's joke. Officials at the school had to convince them otherwise.

I still have a hard time believing anyone could have thought this up as a legitimate "solution" for dealing with the difficult employment prospects in law. It's incredibly capricious. I'm still laughing about it. It's the best joke that wasn't a joke ever played on me.

6. professorxyz - April 02, 2010 at 10:42 am

I thought it was illegal to change grades that were assigned by somebody else. I guess the law school would know about any of the legal issues here and they are likley covered in that regard. However, I find it highly unethical to change grades in mass like this. If your law school has a great reputation, and teaches at a high level, a grade of B should not matter to employers. That's just silly. Hell... some of the classes I have learned the most in are the ones in which I, and everybody else in the class, earned a B. I've sat through several classes that were easy "A's" without being challenged at all. Grades earned often reflect the difficulty of the instructor, not the amount learned in the class. Perhaps a more accurate measure of knowledge is the candidates soore on the BAR exam (although normed testing has it's detractors and issues too).

7. roro1618 - April 02, 2010 at 10:53 am

The article title is misleading, perhaps on purpose to increase the article's provacativity. The grades are not being changed: rather the grading scale is being changed.

8. mawgui - April 02, 2010 at 10:55 am

Raising grades retroactively to "level the playing field?" Because employers have GPA cutoffs? Dean Gold and the alumni of Loyola Law School should rethink this decision and consider the message that it sends. On the one hand, one can envision this rationale repeated in other, presumably less principled, schools and in other curricula, with the same sort of logic, resulting in a sort of grade inflation arms race. On the other hand, the already ethically impaired image of lawyers, fair or not, cannot benefit from this sort of mercenary sleight-of-hand.

9. melchiori - April 02, 2010 at 11:12 am

GPA is irrelevant if we can all get good grades because the school assumes we are smart once we are admitted. If they are to mean anything, the purpose of grades should be to sort the wheat from the chaff - not to make us all feel and look good.

Instead of abandoning academic rigor in an effort to make everyone a appear to be an academic genius, perhaps law schools should focus their efforts on actually providing students with an education that make students more effective lawyers after graduation. GPA would then become irrelevant for the proper reason.

In my experience, even though I got good grades,the real skills necessary to be a successful attorney were obtained after law school - in the courtroom of hard knocks where achievement counts.

10. johntoradze - April 02, 2010 at 12:28 pm

We breathlessly await the new law school recruiting motto!

Come to our school! Your grades will be the highest anywhere! That will make YOU more competitive!

11. manhire - April 02, 2010 at 12:44 pm

This story reminds me of unintentional plagiarism.

SIU's unintentional plagiarism concept as contrived sophistry?

12. john_d_foubert_phd - April 02, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Did this Dean consult with the faculty before changing students' grades? Was this a decision by one administrator or by all faculty? This article leaves many questions unanswered when it talks about "the school" doing this. Was it a renegade Dean or did the faculty decide to do this? Did the Dean violate the academic freedom of the faculty by changing students grades across the board? If so, this is a huge scandal. If the faculty made the decision, it appears to be an ethically questionable practice, at best, to retroactively change grades.

13. 11185500 - April 02, 2010 at 01:33 pm

St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and is the namesake for the various Loyola Universities. His mantra was (Rule 13 of the Jesuits' "Rules for Thinking with the Church): "I will believe that the white that I see is black if the hierarchical Church so defines it". With that philosophical and moral base it is a small step to "believing that the B- I see is a B." Or anything else. The only surprise here is that they didn't change all grades to A's. St. Ignatius would be proud.

14. minnesotan - April 02, 2010 at 03:05 pm

Maybe if everyone who goes to your school receives an automatic 4.0 you'll look even better!

15. archman - April 02, 2010 at 05:08 pm

oh come on, this HAS to be a April Fool's joke...

16. 11185500 - April 02, 2010 at 07:21 pm

But here's a problem, what about the student who previously received a 4.00 (or A+) grade. What increased grade is shown on that student's transcript...a 4.33? But what is higher than an A+? Do the good Jesuits create a new symbol for what replaces the A+?

And since Loyola can retroactively increase its grades, it makes sense the other Law Schools will do the same ("retroactive grade inflation"). This of course creates a moving average, and pretty soon Loyola will have to increase its grades once more, to accommodate for the retroactive grade inflation of other schools. I can envision something like a Dow Jones Ticker Tape for Law School Grades, with the day's stock prices...uh, current grades...being displayed on a real-tiome basis. It's only one short step from there to active buying and selling of the grades ("Today's Loyola grades went down on rumors of an announcement of inflation of USC and Hastings Law School grades"). It's obvious we need something like the Federal Reserve Board for law school grades, where a highly politicized group of Presidential appointees will meet quarterly and announce the current discount rate for law school grades in the U.S. Derivatives, anyone?

17. your_rights - April 03, 2010 at 07:16 am

It seems many professors are presured into giving grades that students do not earn to keep their jobs. To publicly announce that you intend to shift student grades up seems like admitting guilt. How long do you think it will take the employer to figure out that the graduate they just hired is 'not too bright?'

I have graduate students who can not write a proper sentence or use a footnote. The President refused to allow us to purchase turn-it-in.com. The dumbing down is hurting everyone.

18. jorjenannis - April 03, 2010 at 07:49 am

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19. amnirov - April 03, 2010 at 09:57 am

What a joke! Way to contribute to grade inflation.

20. oscarw - April 03, 2010 at 10:54 am

In New York, this would not be grade inflation, it would be Falsifying Business records in the Second Degree, a class A Misdemeanor. That's punishable by a fine of no more than $1,000.00 and/or no more than one year in jail.
Grade inflation, as I understand it, would occur after some fiat by the dean or the profs.
But I'm just a prosecutor.

21. tbg26 - April 03, 2010 at 03:36 pm

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22. proffer - April 03, 2010 at 04:25 pm

It turns out that many federal agencies will not consider any applicant for legal employment if she has a GPA below 3.0. Using a grading scale that automatically disqualifies half of your graduating class from federal employment seemed, on reflection, inappropriate.

23. amnirov - April 05, 2010 at 05:51 am

Proffer? WTF?

Perhaps not everyone who graduates from law school is a B student. Perhaps not every deserves to be qualified for a federal post.

NOTE TO FEDS: raise cut off to 3.33 GPA for Loyola Law School grads.

24. aaroncj - April 05, 2010 at 06:36 am

Shades of "This Is Spinal Tap." Our grades go to A+.

25. navydad - April 05, 2010 at 11:33 am

I'm not sure what to think about our law school's action here, but the real problem is that some employers use a GPA cutoff in employment decisions. This is simplistic bureaucratic behavior and it harms the employer as well as the prospective candidates. Does anyone really think that a B- Harvard Law graduate is less qualified than a B+ graduate of Third Rate Law School?

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