02 June 2008

Fluffy Grading

The faculty at Stanford Law School voted last week to approve a grade reform proposal that would eliminate letters and replace them with four levels of achievement. The decision came after a long period of discussion among students and faculty that weighed issues such as collegiality, anxiety and fairness. The debate may be spreading to other law schools across the country.

Stanford’s new system — which will award grades of honors, pass, restricted credit and no credit — resembles that at Yale Law School and Berkeley Law School.

Those who support the change at Stanford argue that shifting from the precision of letter grades to broader categories will reduce some pressure and refocus students’ and professors’ energies on classroom learning. Others worry that de-emphasizing students’ GPAs could disadvantage them with potential employers, although that hasn’t proven to be an issue with new Yale or Berkeley lawyers.

“The new system includes a shared norm for the proportion of honors to be awarded in both exam and paper courses. No grading system is perfect, but the consensus is that the reform will have significant pedagogical benefits, including that it encourages greater flexibility and innovation in the classroom and in designing metrics for evaluating student work,” wrote Stanford Law dean Larry Kramer to students and faculty in an e-mail on Thursday.
There's a whole lot more to be found in the Inside Higher Ed article on Stanford Law dropping letter grades. Is it possible that standards-based grading is making its first forays into universities? As you might imagine, there is some trepidation expressed in the article. Maybe Stanford and Yale can get away with doing this because of who they are.
“Good for them, but this fluffy grading is the luxury of schools in like the Top 5 where grades don’t matter as much anyway,” wrote one commenter. “If you went to a 20-something school like I did, you need to be able to show you were in the top-whatever % of your class to get into BigLaw, let alone Federal clerkships.”
Fluffy grading? You mean grading based on learning? Learning which is collaborative and not competitive? Grading that's fair?

Bring on the fluff.

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