Stanford Law School plans to drop letter grades as early as this fall, joining Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law.
The goals are to shift students away from the focus on grades and prevent course selections that have started to include calculation of instructors' grading habits, according to Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer.
"It didn't come out of the blue. We consulted with employers and students and it has been well received," he said.
Students will get one of four grades: honors, pass, restricted credit or no credit, instead of the traditional A+ to F grades.
Boalt Hall at Berkeley abandoned traditional grades 35 years ago and Yale University also switched years ago.
Berkeley does impose a strict quota on professors to keep an even system among all the instructors, according to Steve Sugarman, a Boalt professor.
"It is a big problem if you don't have quotas," he said. "Without it there is uneven grading among instructors and students who get harder graders complain," he said.
Berkeley, which has four grade categories, high honors, honors, pass and fail, limits high honors to 10 percent in each course, among first-year students, and 10 percent for regular honors grade. Instructors can give no more and no less than 10 percent of the top two grades, Sugarman said.
PASSING GRADE FROM STUDENTS
Kramer said Stanford plans to use a quota system of "a kind of enforced norm for ranges," but "a set of details has to be worked out." Once that is done it will eliminate the class-shopping problem, he said.
Kramer also pointed out that elimination of letter grades is common in business and medical schools, but law schools are the most conservative and slow to change.
Daniel Bernstein, heading into his third year at Stanford Law School and a member of the Law Review staff, said, "most students have reacted positively" to the grade reforms. "Most students wanted it all along and lobbied for it," he said.
Bernstein, of Washington, D.C., said he didn't know what is in the wind for the top grad quota, but he thinks caps should be higher than the 10 percent allowed at Berkeley.
"You want to give students a bigger chance to hear honors and the chance to reward student initiative and distinguish the better students," he said. "I'm not sure, but a 25 percent to 35 percent cap would be good ... or give professors a band within which to work," he said.
"If you're going to eliminate grades you still need a way to distinguish performance," Bernstein said.
Kramer said the students have been told the new system may be in place as early as this fall but it could take a full year to implement. "There are a whole bunch of details to be worked out," he said.
The Stanford Law Review did not take an official position on the grading policy change but issued this statement: "The Review has, for many years, selected members irrespective of grades. The Stanford Law Review seeks members who are committed to producing excellent and innovative legal scholarship. Our selection process consists of a blindly evaluated editing and writing exercise, to ensure that our members are meticulous editors and high-caliber legal writers."