Grading Curve, Honors Changes Discussed
Nearly seventy students attended a forum last week on the College of Law’s new grading curve and honors requirements. The forum was presented by Academic Standards Committee Chair/ Professor Marty McMahon, Associate Dean Michael Friel, Associate Dean for Students, Professionalism and Community Relations Gail Sasnett, Assistant Dean for Students and Academic Affairs Richard Ludwick and Registrar Kim Thomas to explain the new requirements and address student concerns. Forum participants learned that law school faculty have considered making the changes since an initial discussion more than four years ago, when concerns were raised that first-year UF law student grades were making UF law students less competitive in the job market than students at comparable law schools, such as Vanderbilt, University of North Carolina and Emory. The faculty then conducted an extensive study of the grading system at other law schools and discovered that, in comparison, UF’s grading system produced unusually low first-year student grades and high second- and third-year grades. The new curve was developed to address this issue, result in more consistent grades for all three years of law school, and eliminate grade-based course selection. It raises the range for first-year grades from 2.80-2.85 to 3.15-3.25. Due in part to this increase and a number of other complex factors, the faculty voted to impose a mandatory grade curve in all classes, regardless of level or class size. The only exceptions are in classes where students, on average, have higher or lower GPAs than the mandatory mean. In those cases, professors may raise or lower — plus or minus .05 points — the curve to the class average. (For example, in a seminar with 10 students with an average GPA of 3.7, the professor does not have to assign grades averaging 3.15-3.25, but can instead assign higher grades that average up to 3.75 for the class.) This safeguard enables students with high GPAs to not be penalized for selecting courses where it is likely that other students with high GPAs may enroll. Chief among student concerns raised and addressed at the forum were the following: • Some fourth, fifth- and sixth-semester students felt penalized since they were subject to the lower grading curve during their initial semesters and now cannot improve their grades before graduation. (Under the old curve, clinics and seminars could enhance GPAs in the last two years of law school.) • A number of students felt new honors requirements prevented them from earning honors designations they were entitled to under the former system. The Academic Standards Committee is currently considering recommending to the faculty an amendment to the transition rules. Under the proposed amendment, honors and high honors for each graduating class before Fall 2005 would be based on percentage cut-offs that would assure that the percentage of students graduating with honors and high honors from Fall 2003 through Spring 2004 would be the same as the percentage of students who graduated with honors and high honors in the five semesters before the new grading curve took effect.