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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Legally Blind Grading, Take 3: Are Law Professors Given Too Much Latitude in Boosting or Docking Student Grades?

I have written two posts (here and here) so far about what I call "legally blind grading" in law school, i.e., the grading process under which law professors are deprived of information which would allow them to match exams with names but under which law professors can dock or boost student grades based upon insufficient or exceptional class participation (As you can see from the polls in those posts, many more law professors boost student grades than dock them). As I noted in a guest post last April, "[t]he most common rationale that I have heard is that 'blind grading is meant to ensure, at least in part, that a student's actual performance on the exam, and not any improper influence, is the exclusive factor in determining her final score.'"

My question in this post is whether "legally blind grading" succeeds in this mission. A person who is "legally blind" is not actually blind. The legal standard for legal blindness is visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. I have worse visual acuity than 20/200 in my better eye without the use of a correcting lens, and I wouldn't want to get by without my glasses, but I can still "see" without my glasses and have gotten by without them when in a pinch. I see the situation as the same with "legally blind grading."

Law school grading curves differ, but here is a random one that I found that I don't think is that out of the ordinary: A 10%; A- 15%; B+ 10%; B 45%; B- 10% C+ and below 10%. As far as I know, most schools allow professors to boost or dock students' grades by up to 1/3 of a grade, e.g., from a B to a B+ or vice versa. So, a student with an exam score placing him close to the 80th percentile in a class could end up with a grade basically in the top 1/3 of the class with a grade boost (B to B+). And a student with an exam score close to the 35th percentile could end up with a grade basically in the bottom 20th percentile with a grade dock (B to a B-). Of course, these are extreme examples, and your school might have a different grade curve, but I think you get the point: So called "blind grading" in law school has the potential to be not very blind at all. So, are you comfortable with the latitude given to professors in boosting or docking student grades based upon class participation? And do you think that blind grading is necessary at all? You can answer these questions by responding to the following poll and/or leaving comments to this post.
Are law professors given too much latitude in boosting or docking student grades (assuming a 1/3 grade change maximum)?

View Results
Web Poll from Free Website Polls

-Colin Miller

Posted by Evidence ProfBlogger on March 10, 2010 at 08:55 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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James, as I said, my examples were a bit extreme. But assume a more spread out curve of A 10%; A- 15%; B+ 15%; B 35%; B- 15% C+ and below 10%. A student at about the 75th percentile can be bumped up to a B+, and a student at about the 40th percentile could still be bumped down to a B-.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Mar 10, 2010 10:31:36 AM

Isn't your example driven by the very high percentage of Bs in the sample curve? Both your hypothetical students start out in the massive B range. This curve gives a student in the 40th percentile and a student in the 75th percentile the same grade (or, to sharpen the point, the 36th and the 79th) before class participation even enters the picture.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Mar 10, 2010 9:43:41 AM

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