An adjustment in grading policy at Harvard Law School has caught students off guard and incited concern that employers will use the new metrics to differentiate among job candidates.
The changes, which will allow the Law School to calculate Latin Honors more precisely, were put in place over the summer and included in the 2010-2011 Handbook of Academic Policies, but were never publicly announced.
The biggest change is that each grade will now correspond to a point value—four points are awarded for a High Pass, three points for Pass, two points for Low Pass, and zero points for a failing grade.
When the Pass-Fail system was adopted in 2008, it was made clear “that there would be tweaks along the way,” said Assistant Dean for Career Services Mark A. Weber.
The changes this year are simply “fine tuning a process which everyone knew about,” he added.
The point average will not be printed on students’ transcripts, but the explanation of the point value system will be included on the back of the transcript.
Another change is that professors will now have increased discretion over the number of Dean’s Scholar Prizes they award.
Previously, a maximum of two Dean’s Scholar Prizes—which recognize execellent academic work—could be given per class.
A Dean’s Scholar Prize will also be worth five points in the new scale and will be factored into Latin Honors calculations.
Law School Student Government President Jennifer D. Dein expressed concern that the five points assigned to the Dean’s Scholar Prize, combined with the more liberal allotment of the prizes would effectively make the prize the equivalent of an “A.”
“Now it feels like a High Pass is a B and a Pass is a C,” Dein said.
Weber said he believes Dean’s Scholar Prizes should be regarded as an A+ for especially extraordinary work and these awards will not devalue other grades.
Some students expressed concern that assigning a high numerical value to Dean’s Scholar Prizes retroactively would reward effort in a certain way that was not intended at the time it was awarded.
According to the Law School, attaching numerical equivalents to the grades on the transcript is not unprecedented.
Previously, an 8-point scale appeared on the back of the transcript under the old letter-grade system.