Ready for a bold, largely unsupported prediction?
Within the next 10 the majority of U.S. law schools will switch to non-letter grading systems.
Yesterday TaxProf Blog mentioned some statistics from Law Quadrangle that highlight the results of law school grade inflation in the last 50 years. Check out the TaxProf Blog link for colorful charts and Garrison Keillor references, but here are a couple of highlights indicative of the trend:
· In the 1950s, the mean law school GPA was 2.53. In the early 2000s, it was 3.28.
· In the 1950s, 1% of law school students graduated with a 3.5 GPA or higher. In the early 2000s, 26% did.
· In the 1950s, 18% of law students graduated with between a 3.0 and 3.49 GPA. In the early 2000s, 61% did.
A while back, when top ten law schools were one by one switching away from letter grading systems, I joked about transposing my law school transcript into Super Honors/Honors/Pass/Low Pass/Substandard Pass/Restricted Credit/Fail format (I think I ended up with a Pass + GPA).
The joke was that my law school would never be able to switch to non-letter grading because it isn’t ranked high enough. The conventional wisdom is that only high ranked schools can afford to switch to non-letter grading systems because employers already assume their graduates are of superior quality. Lower ranked schools still have to find ways to allow employers to differentiate the good students from the bad.
My question is: At what point do law school letter grades become so inflated that they convey even less information to employers than non-letter grading systems?
If nearly a third of law school students graduate with a 3.5 GPA or higher, and 61% graduate with a GPA between 3.0 and 3.5, it seems unlikely that letter grades really help employers sort out good and bad prospects any better than non-letter grades.
Considering that grade inflation is likely to continue, I think its going to become easier and easier for lower ranked schools to justify getting rid of inflation-tarnished letter grading systems and switching to Honors/Pass/Fail style systems.
I just picked 10 years because it sounded good, but I do think these changes may not be far off. Pass/Fail isn’t just for Yale anymore.