Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Grading Problem: Are They All American Idols, or Where is Simon When You Need Him

A few days ago, without much success, I asked readers if there were different MoneyLaw rules for public and private schools. Now I have a different question for which I also do not have an answer: Is there a MoneyLaw approach to grading?

Grades are signals. First to students on how they did and, second, to employers on how the School evaluated the students. The problem of articulating a MoneyLaw approach is illustrated by two conversations I had recently.

Conversation one was by email. The registrar wrote to ask whether a student who had missed a month of contracts due to illness could return to class. My answer was: 1) I had no limit on excused absences, 2) Because of our curve (3.2) the student would like get a passing grade and 3) I could not promise the student would know much about contracts.

Conversation two was with a first year student who said she was anxious to get her grades to find out how she was doing. My response was to tell her that even after grades she would likely not know. With a 3.2 curve the pattern in a 110 person call is about 15 A’s, 10 C’s and all the rest are B’s or B+. In short she was likely to find she had the same grade as 40 others.

Apart from my view that current grading is a result the disastrous decisions of the 60s generation in which I fully participated. (At one time I consciously practiced affirmative action in giving grades and tutoring. Something I would not do now even if it were necessary, which it most certainly is not at my School.) It is also a response to the implicit bargain between professors and students that entails given high grades and then being viewed as fair or “a good guy” which then may show up as higher enrollments and teaching evaluations. Curves take out of play the “grade bribe” but do not take out of play the “less rigor bribe.” By the way, I do not think a great percentage of law professors fall prey to either of these but it only takes few to create the externalities to which others react.

So, do grading policies fall within MoneyLaw concerns?

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