Law school votes to drop letter grades; revamped system begins this quarter

First- and second-year Law School students will be working for honors instead of A's this year.

In a move intended to ease student competition, make grading more fair and eliminate "class shopping," Stanford Law School faculty voted to replace letter grades with a system that doles out honors, passes, restricted credit or no credit. This year's crop of third-year students will be the last class ranked from A+ to F in correspondence with numerical grades between 4.3 and 2.1.

"There was increasing discontent among the faculty over our grading system," said Larry Kramer, dean of the Law School. "Some classes were on-mean and some were off-mean. It was an irrational system with negative consequences."

One of the biggest drawbacks to the old way of grading was that it encouraged students to pick classes based on a professor's grading style, Kramer said.

"This is already a low-pressure school when it comes to grades," he said. "We want to do as much as we can to keep the pressure down and have the students focus on learning."

The new system, developed after a year of discussions among administrators, faculty and students, includes a shared norm for the proportion of honors to be awarded in both exam and paper courses.

Stanford's medical and business schools also do not award letter grades.

Kramer said the new system would "give faculty more room to try new things in class" and encourage professors to give more writing assignments.

The move to revamp how grades are given follows similar decisions at Yale Law School and the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, where letter grades have been abandoned.

The new grading systems aren't raising concerns among officials at the American Bar Association or the National Association for Law Placement. And Kramer said he's confident the new system won't put students at a disadvantage when they apply for jobs.

"Stanford students will always get hired because they're so well trained," Kramer said. "Law firms know that."