Grading changes finalized

BY ANDREW KALLOCH

The Class of 2010 will be the first and only class in the history of Harvard Law School to have two types of grades on their transcripts, announced Dean Elena Kagan ’86 in an email to the law school community on Monday, October 27.

After weeks of wondering how the new pass-fail grading system would apply to the Class of 2010, it was declared that the current 2L class will maintain traditional grades this academic year and transition to the new system in the Fall of 2009.

Current 3Ls (Class of 2009) will stay with the traditional system, while 1Ls (Class of 2011) will be entirely under the new system. LLMs will be graded in the same way as JD students in each of their classes.

The bulk of Kagan’s message, reprinted below, addressed the 2L class:

“The application of our new grading system to second-year students presents a more difficult question. Input from members of this class indicates that a majority favors immediate application of the new system, essentially for the same reasons that the faculty approved the change.

A very substantial minority, however, raised serious issues about this approach. The most weighty concern, to my mind, relates to the ability of members of this class to show improvement in grades over time, so as to increase their chances of receiving a clerkship, public service job, or other late-occurring opportunity.

Numerous students wrote me that although they would have favored our new grading system if applied from the beginning, they thought that applying it midstream would further highlight their first-year grades and deprive them of a chance to show that they could do better than they had done under the traditional system. Some of these students also noted that they had made choices of courses or extra-curricular activities in the expectation that they would have this opportunity.

In light of these strong arguments on both sides of the question, the School will adopt something of a middle course, suggested by a number of second-year students. (I should note that second-year students offered several other creative approaches to the issue, and we seriously considered all of them.) In 2008-09, members of this class will continue to receive traditional grades. In 2009-10, members of the class will receive grades under the new grading system, with the result that the entire school in that year will operate on this new system.

Graduating honors will continue much as now, based on performance from all three years. This approach will allow students in the position I have described above to show the kind of improvement in their academic records most easily recognized by judges and other employers (because based on the same metric). At the same time, it will enable the entire Law School, including members of the class of 2010, to participate in, and gain the educational benefits of, the new system beginning next year.

I understand that some may view this solution as akin to cutting the baby in half, and it will disappoint some students on both sides. But it seems to me to respond appropriately to the most powerful concerns on either side and thus to represent a judicious, even if by no means perfect, resolution of the issue.”

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