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Loyola Law School boosts grades, provokes debate

April 2, 2010 |  2:57 pm

Students at Loyola Law School in downtown Los Angeles just had their grades adjusted a bit upward without even having to study any harder.

The 1,300-student school recently changed its grading curve formula for current students and the last three years of graduates by a third of a grade to match the scales of other schools in California. But the move also provoked criticism and concerns about artificial grade inflation.

The change was intended to ensure that its students are able to compete for jobs on an equal footing with other law school graduates and are not hurt by what had been a slightly tougher grading system, said Loyola’s law school dean, Victor Gold.

"We were putting our students unfairly at a competitive disadvantage in an extremely competitive job market," he said in an interview Friday. "We are trying to have a level playing field with other students in the state."

By changing the letter grade assigned to numeric scores, the change raised the average GPA of its first-year students from a B-minus to a B.

The dean said the faculty vigorously debated the plan, knowing that the school risked bad publicity and accusations of grade inflation. But to do nothing, Gold said, would be worse.

Sure enough, criticism arrived quickly.

Elie Mystal, co-editor of the legal affairs website Above the Law, blasted the Loyola change.

"I’m happy — I’m thrilled, even — that law school administrations are noticing their graduates cannot get jobs in this economy," Mystal, a Harvard Law School graduate, wrote in a posting. "Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards correcting the problem. But of all the things a school might do to help students get jobs, artificially inflating grades retroactively seems like the most shallow and cosmetic ‘solution’ possible."

In an e-mail response to questions from The Times, Mystal said he found it particularly unusual that Loyola is retroactively changing the grades for classes back to 2007.

"All Loyola has done is make sure all the area employers know that those transcripts are artificially inflated. Maybe in a couple of years, employers will forget," he wrote.

However, Scott Altman, vice dean at USC’s law school, defended changes in grading curves.

USC’s law school changed its grading system in various ways in the past decade, most recently in 2008 with a small rise in the mean grades for first-year students from 3.2 to 3.3. That was done in part to match changes at UCLA, he said.

"We didn’t want local or national employers to mistakenly think our students had lower grades than students at comparable schools," he said.

Altman said he was not familiar with details of Loyola’s plan, but said he assumes it took the steps "in good faith." 

"It’s not in their interest to have rampant grade inflation," he said.

--Larry Gordon