Friday, December 01, 2006

Inflate me

Here's about the time where 1Ls are getting stressed about exams and pre-laws are eagerly sending off their applications (like the great 1L mail merge that happens on December 1, except with the changing of the law school names: "I'm sure that a legal education at _______ Law School will develop my abilities to deal effectively with the multitude of social problems that face the disadvantaged, blah blah blah"). Things these pre-laws need to think about of course in deciding where to go are, inter alia, money and rankings. But here's another, dealing with my last post.

The higher ranked the law school, the better the grading system. Like colleges and their grade inflation, law school grade inflation has occurred in an effort both to keep the students happy and to keep up with the Law School Joneses. Students might get peeved about paying $40K to get Cs and Ds. Plus, as the top law schools around the country inflate, their peers and/or aspiring peers inflate as well, so that one school's graduates will not automatically have an advantage based on higher comparative grades.

As dealt with in my last post, UCLA's new revised grading curve for 1Ls is the following, roughly a 25/70/5 curve. In my nonscientific overview of law schools, I believe that this curve is one of the most generous, gradeless Boalt and Yale excepted, of its kind.
A+ to A-: 25% - 29%, Target 27%
B+ to B: 41% - 52%
B-: 18% - 22%, Target 20%
C+ or below: 5% - 8%
And the curve for 2Ls and 3Ls eliminate Cs.

A (taken out of context) proof of my contention that grade inflation rises as a school's ranking rises: UCLAW, founded in 1950, is by far the youngest of the top law schools (as ranked by a certain national weekly news magazine) and is the quickest to have achieved its ranking of any school in the country. The original curve as I understand was 20/40/40. About a dozen years ago, as part of the school's rise, the curve was changed to 20/60/20. Three years ago, a new Dean came to the school from NYU Law, and the current Dean's vision is to build UCLA into a legal powerhouse of the Northeast variety. And last year, he changed the curve to its current form, where basically everyone is guaranteed at least some kind of B. I believe that through more empirical research, one can find this correlation between rank and grade inflation at most, if not all, schools.

How this affects pre-laws is this: lower ranked schools might give out more money, but they also have harsher curves in their attempt to move up in the rankings and to gain legitimacy as being sufficiently intellectual rigorous and disciplined (some even automatically fail out a fixed portion of every 1Ls class). As you move up the rankings, curves become more generous, so a "B+" at a higher ranked school is a lot easier to get than a "B+" at a lower ranked school, a sort of double disadvantage.

Among the many reasons why law school at UCLA is a good deal. It is also currently 73 degrees while the rest of the country digs out of a snow storm.

P.S. Super-duper extra points for anyone who can articulate the connection between the phrase inter alia and the show Prison Break.


Blogger divine angst said...

I don't know about the most generous. Northwestern's isn't much different, and is perhaps even more generous. At least 25% of every curved class gets an A of some stripe, and up to 37% can get an A. At least 45%, and up to 80% get a B of some kind. And no C's are required at all, by the curve in any class. (Though, up to 15% can get a C; up to 7% can get a D/F but that NEVER HAPPENS.) All years use the same curve for classes with more than 40 students.

5:33 AM  
Blogger Meagan said...

This is spot on. A few years ago, Temple changed it's curve to a strict B, and hands out Cs and D+s with alarming regularity. Coincidentally, (or not, ha), we've been making our way up the rankings each year.

6:25 AM  
Blogger Butterflyfish said...

I had a prof explain our harsh curve thusly: I can give 32 A's if I wish. If you all write A papers, I can give them. And I will, though I'd have to justify it to the Dean. I could also give 32 F's but that is about as likely. There is no mandatory curve. The curve is a prediction of how the class will shake out based on past performance, etc. And the best we expect is C+/B- average.

I kina think he's full of sh*t. But then, we did a Tier jump last year.

9:07 AM  

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