In the wake of an announcement on new grading policies, Yale Law School students and faculty expressed mixed views on the school’s unorthodox system of grading.
Unlike many law schools around the country, the law school has a tertiary grading system in the second and third years in which professors assign students one of three grades: honors, pass or low pass. The first year employs credit/fail grading. In a school-wide email sent last week, Yale Law School Dean Robert Post wrote to students that the school’s Grading Review Committee had approved two proposals to revise the grading system.
The first proposal changed the description of honors that will appear on students’ transcripts to reflect that the grade represents “superior mastery” as opposed to work “significantly superior to the average level of performance.” Secondly, the committee agreed to do away with “student-awarded credits” that law school students earned through participation in student activities and journals. Instead, a faculty member will be able to award credit for such activities upon evaluation.
“The change in the description [of the honors grade] was just an attempt to update the description to better update our practices,” YLS professor Douglas Kysar said. “I don’t think it will change the grading norms or the current grading practices. I think it will just now reflect the way people are giving out grades.”
Kysar said there is a wide range of opinions among faculty members on the law school’s three-tier grading system, but there is no strong consensus for any type of reform. He added that from his own experience, compared to the traditional A-F grading format that he has used at other law schools, Yale Law School’s system seems limited.
Kysar also said that if the law school commits to a view that it is admitting some of the best law students in the world, all students should be awarded the highest grade. Thus, he said, the law school should eventually either convert to a simple pass/fail system or use traditional letter grades.
“The current [system] is a halfway compromise that doesn’t really make sense,” he said.
Similarly, Phoebe Clarke LAW ’15 said the problem with having such great range within each grade is that students do not have a clear idea of how they performed compared to their classmates.
However, Clarke said she thinks her peers are generally content with the school’s grading scale.
Law school professor James Silk said much of the contention over the grading system at the law school stems from the lack of a consistent view on what each of the three grades means, and there is a particularly wide range of interpretation regarding the honors grade.
Similarly, Beezly Kiernan LAW ’16 said students can expect a higher probability of getting an honors or a pass, while the low pass grade is rarely given.
“Effectively right now we have an H/P system. You either get an H or you get a P, and it’s almost expected that in certain classes you’ll get an H and in other classes … you’ll probably get a P,” he said. “It’s a binary, but it’s a weird binary that doesn’t really map onto that [many] characteristics of the individual.”
Kiernan said that instead he would be in favor of a simple pass/fail system, akin to what is used for first-years, primarily because the skills demonstrated on law exams do not accurately reflect future performance in law.
However, Silk said the current three-tier system actually enables the law school to maintain many of the values inherent in a no-grade policy, such as a cooperative learning environment in which students are willing to take intellectual risks.
Individual class rank and GPA are not calculated at the law school.