Retroactive Grade Inflation At Loyola Law School

Last year Loyola Law School in Los Angelas decided to help its struggling graduates get jobs in the current miserable market by improving their grades for them retroactively. Loyola’s Law Dean Victor Gold explained at the time:

Last week the faculty approved a proposal to modify the grading system. The change will boost by one step the letter grades assigned at each level of our mandatory curve. For example, what previously was a B- would be a B, what previously was a B would be a B+, and so forth. All other academic standards based on grades, such as the probation and disqualification thresholds, are also adjusted upwards by the same magnitude. For reasons that will be explained below, these changes are retroactive to include all grades that have been earned under the current grading system since it was adopted. This means that all grades already earned by current students will be changed. It also means that all grades going forward will be governed by the new curve. The effect of making the change retroactive will be to increase the GPA of all students by .333. The change will not alter relative class rank since the GPA of all students will be moved up by the same amount.

Reasons for Change

I asked the faculty to make this change for two reasons. First, grades provide information about our students and our academic program. Employers and external sources of scholarship dollars pay very careful attention to this information. The information conveyed by the old grading curve did not accurately convey the high quality of our students. Over the last several years our students have improved significantly as measured by all the usual standards of academic accomplishment. In 1999, the undergraduate GPA for the 25th/75th percentiles of our first year class was 3.00-3.50 and the LSAT was 154/160. In 2009 the GPA was 3.17-3.61 and the LSAT was 158-163. Just 70% of our 1999 graduates passed the July bar exam on the first attempt. Over 85% of our 2009 graduates passed on the first try.

Second, many other schools already have moved their curves higher than ours to give their students an advantage in this difficult job market. In fact, before this change, only one other accredited California law school had a mean grade for first year classes as low as ours. Without adjusting our curve, we send an inaccurate message to employers about the comparative quality of our students and put them at an unfair competitive disadvantage. Since we are adjusting our curve well after many other schools in our region already moved their curves higher, our faculty decided it was important to make this adjustment retroactive.

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Absurd, no?

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Kiwi Sauce

    Have they considered that their assessment scheme of their students, which gives them the grades in the first place, is flawed? Are they doing any type of grade norming/comparison of mark ranges over time?

  • http://secularcafe.org Ray Moscow

    It could be a race to the bottom for the value of that degree.

    I recently started a grad program in which high grades are hard to earn. I’d like to think that makes the degree worth more in the long run.

    • Aliasalpha

      Maybe to you, I have a bad feeling that a prospective employer will look at it as “Degree? Check”. Feels like that in Australia anyway

  • csrster

    I can’t really complain without being hypocritical – Cambridge University just upgraded my Certificate of Advanced Study in Mathematics to a Masters degree – 25 years after I earned it.

  • Aliasalpha

    So how does this make their students look compared to other universities? Will the rest of them follow suit and start boosting their grades in a race to be the first to have their pass mark as “A+++++++++++++OMGWTF!!!”?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      So how does this make their students look compared to other universities? Will the rest of them follow suit and start boosting their grades in a race to be the first to have their pass mark as “A+++++++++++++OMGWTF!!!”?

      hahahahaha

  • lordshipmayhem

    It’s a delightful way of destroying the value of your university’s degrees, and a quite effective way of destroying your university’s research credibility.

    The alumni should be proud of their alma mater, and write it letters of congratulations. Sans cheques.

  • http://zenoferox.blogspot.com/ Zeno

    There was a proposal recently in the California legislature to tie community college funding to student success rates, one of the worst-conceived of the “merit pay” schemes. The schools with the most lax standards would have reaped a budgetary windfall. Fortunately, it was defeated. Had it been enacted, I would have predicted soaring numbers of students passing their classes and earning their associate degrees. It would have been an educational miracle!

    Clearly ex post facto escalation of GPAs is an even more convenient way to enhance student “success.”

  • CC

    I’d like to know what the mid-point of Loyola’s curve is. I just graduated from a relatively highly ranked law school where the midpoint of the curve was 3.0. That’s a typical law school curve. Unless Loyola raised it’s midpoint higher than that, I don’t think the change is anything to get upset about.

    As it is, the major firms hire on the basis of class rank, not GPA. The school you graduate from and your class rank are more important than your GPA.

  • Mary C. Young

    Wow. Riddle me this: you publish a press release announcing that you are going to inflate all the grades past and present from Loyola Law School in order to help prospective employers look upon your students more favorably in the hiring process. So what was once a 3.0 is now a 3.3. BUT A HUGE PORTION of those prospective employers, undoubtedly, have seen this press release and now know that you can’t trust the GPA scale of a Loyola Law student. EVEN WORSE, the school appears as if it has no integrity and that, rather than raising admissions standards or engaging in substantive measures to help students earn better grades at the grade level already used is beyond me.

    How no one raised the objection that this could be SERIOUSLY detrimental to the graduates of the law school escapes me. If I were on the hiring board of a firm I would put all of the “Loyola Law School” resumes at the bottom of the pile after seeing this.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    How no one raised the objection that this could be SERIOUSLY detrimental to the graduates of the law school escapes me. If I were on the hiring board of a firm I would put all of the “Loyola Law School” resumes at the bottom of the pile after seeing this.

    While I don’t hire lawyers for my company, I have been on search committees for executives. I have downgraded applications of graduates of certain schools* because I don’t believe they received an adequate education. Knowing what I now know about Loyola, I’ll be a bit leery of their graduates.

    *I will not embarrass Bob Jones University and Liberty University by mentioning the names of any particular colleges.


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