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June 5, 2008

Grades are out, more reactions sought....

My understanding is that grades for our legislation class were released today.  I succeeded in "pushing" the curve a bit, but I am still sad I could not give even more top grades: once the grades were un-blinded, I saw a lot of students who I thought did really good work throughout the semester not having these efforts fully reflected in their final grade.  Such is the "curse" of blind grading and forced curves.

At this point, of course, I am eager for more class/grade reactions and reflections now that you all know how you officially did (and now that you have the nice weather to temper your tempers).  In addition, I am trying to promote a broader grade debate over here, where I hope you can and will contribute thoughts about whether we should seriously consider doing away with letter grades altogether.

June 5, 2008 in Class reflections | Permalink


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Why is Foley such a lazy ass? I never would have thought he would turn in grades later than everyone else.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 6, 2008 12:55:03 PM

if you are really that concerned about it, why don't you email him instead of posting here?

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 6, 2008 2:43:36 PM

I think disgusted sums up my opinion of this course. Not only did we do almost nothing for the first half, but the latter half became a look at 2 cases. Our final then became what happened in those 2 cases. Wonderful. Should anyone bitch about not knowing what was on the final - of course not, but this bespeaks the problem of the final. When you give a final based on the only 2 cases we really read and leave the questions simple enough, you invite nothing but repetitious answers. You have complained enough about having to grade papers - how in the hell was breaking down the exam into a bunch of mimic answers going to assuage this "agony?"

Leaving the exam in the format it was presented in could result in nothing other than carbon copies. With that considered what is the objective difference between an A and a C? Sentence structure? Grammar?

I understand you hate the grading system, I'm sure most of us do (and I am one of those students to have benefited from the system), but grading in this manner only makes us hate it more. If your goal was to upset the students through completely arbitrary grading - congratulations, you've succeeded.

The curve is never going to be perfectly representative of our actual abilities, we all know this. Taking in-class exams or out-of-class exams will benefit some and hurt others, we also know this. Creating an exam that asks the most basic questions on the only 2 cases we have read all year does level the field. But level the field into what? Though you may feel that any format that puts unfair strain on a student shouldn't be used, putting no strain on any students is equally absurd.

The practical reality is that many of us want serious jobs. To acquire these we need serious grades. Receiving a grade in a class like this, where the final equated to playing craps for 3 hours, and having it drastically affect our future as attorneys is disgusting.

Thanks for teaching us only that grades suck - how droll.

PS. I sincerely hope that a few of the students who spoke every day didn't receive a large amount of "buttressing" to their grades. When you speak in class and effectively say nothing, you may as well not speak. Many of us who chose to say nothing did so because we didn't care about the direction of the current derailment of the class. This doesn't mean we don't care about speaking in class, some of us just find opening our mouths at every interval to say arbitrary nothingness rather frivolous. Remember, quality > quantity.

I eagerly await those who bet hard-8s and could throw them to come defending your class. Sheep are very predictable.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 8, 2008 6:28:38 PM

Anonymous at 6:28:38 PM: I am sorry you were disgusted by the class and by the final. I would be happy to review my grading criteria with you at anytime to make you feel better (or perhpas worse) about how I judged student performance throughout the class. But I really appreciate your decision to speak up now (even though I do not know who you are).

In case you are afraid to "out" youself, I will share some general feedback about the exams for your benefit and/or for anyone else still checking out this blog.

ON THE EXAM: I was amazed by how much difference there was in the quality of answers to all the questions on the final. I found the answers MUCH less "repetitious" than I find answers in my 1L crim law course where I give a traditional 3-hour in-class exam.

For question 1, some folks did a surprisingly poor job describing/defending the Hyle ruling and also did a very poor job incorporating key ideas/themes from the first half of the course in answering the second part of Question 1. I was also disappointed by poor organization and presentation in some papers given how much time was given for this portion of the exam. Anyone who wants a "serious job" should be able to produce a VERY polished and well-organized 1500 word memo in 2+ days.

For question 2, many folks did a very poor job describing the issue in Hayes, and also many did not fully answer the question with regard to theories of statutory construction. Some provided what seemed like "mimic answers" without any real understanding of the issues in play. A good answer had depth and reflected an understanding of many course themes; if you thought your job was to mimic a clear answer, you deeply misunderstood the question and my expectations.

For question 3, some folks failed to focus on what the question specificially asked -- namely how the course helped (or could be improved) to facilitate young lawyer training/development. And an ability to effectively reflect upon and constructively critique another's performance is a critical skill in "serious" legal jobs.

I surmise that you may have done poorly in this class, but have done well on more traditional exams in other courses. If this is true it will, ironically, confirm my sense that the grades were not arbitrary. I was hoping to test MUCH different skills and knowledge than gets tested in more traditional doctrinal courses. I am hopeful that folks who have done (undeservedly?) well on traditional exams would have to demonstrate different talents to do well in this course.

As for class participation, you should have fully realized that choosing to "say nothing" in class and/or on this blog was going to have consequences for a portion of your grade (just like choosing to say nothing in court or to your client or to another lawyer will have consequences when you have a "serious job").

Finally, as you know, I developed the exam format largely in response to student input. I would have much prefered evaluating you all on a series of papers as in legal writing, but there little support for this kind of innovation (which demands a lot more work on the part of students). Perhaps it was my mistake for failing to ram such a grading approach down your throats, but I was trying to be respectful of students' collective concerns.

PS: What kind of "serious job" do you want? Are you working such a job this summer? (If not, I still have some RA positions open, and I am always eager to hire "serious" workers.)

Do you think that in any serious legal job you will be expected to answer hypos on exam software for 3 hours in that job? If not, what leads you to suggest that the grades given in other 1L classes are "serious"? (The only grades I believe really reflect serious lawyering abilities are those I give in Legal Writing and Analysis (and the fixed curve bothers me a lot more in that class).)

PPS: I tend to think those who defend the tradition in-class exam status quo are most like sheep following the law school herd, so I find it peculiar that you hurl this insult at your classmates. If similar mis-use of labels was prevalent throughout your exam, I should be readily able to show you non-arbitrary reasons why you did not do as well as you might have hoped.

Thanks again for the feedback. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts here and elsewhere. I still have a lot to learn about making sure I make clear the methods to my madness and my grading criteria and perspectives.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 8, 2008 7:40:00 PM

You are correct that no real legal job will present hypos for work, but that wasn't my concern either (perhaps I made this unclear, I'll try and rephrase). What I generally prefer to see on an exam is a question that will require understanding of whatever the legal subject matter is (at a bare minimum) with some twist that requires critical thinking. Any exam that boils down to strict memorization is what I consider to be terrible and results in nothing more than arbitrary grading. I believe that you agree with me on this point and that you consider most 1L exams to be within this category. Our Property exam was the perfect example of a traditional law school exam that became a simple matter of copy-pasta with your outline.

Here is an example of what I would prefer as an exam: Medellin. We studied it in ConLaw and it seemed like it went over a lot of people's heads. There was no real reason for this, we had all of the tools to comprehend the case, but nonetheless it made for an exceedingly complicated issue. This is what I would prefer. There would be an initial analysis that everyone would be able to answer (to ensure that the C's were earned and no educational malpractice occurred), and then the critical thinking would come into play. It's a new issue using familiar elements presented in a novel way. Ideally there would be no "right" answer to the question, only possible answers discovered through critical analysis.

Such an exam serves the purpose of making the curve much less arbitrary. When you compare an A and C exam there will be glaring distinctions. This makes the curve much less enforced and into something that would be naturally occurring. Additionally, it rewards creative approaches to difficult questions - something that should be encouraged. But most importantly, no one would fear a luck based grade. If you get a C - you deserve a C, etc. I would hardly call an exam that focuses on critical thinking, "free throw shooting."

A lot of people don't like this idea. The thought of an impossible exam seems scary after your time in undergrad where the easiest exam was the best exam. But this is necessary thanks to the curve. An objectively simple exam only helps all of us when there is no curve - the presence of a curve will only serve to render arbitrary grades given exam simplicity. For this reason I continue to champion so-called, "impossible exams."

I gather that you feel your exam falls into such a category. It was aimed at testing different skills than normal. I just disagree with you on this point (and for the record, yes I have done well in other 1L courses and no I did not do poorly in this course, slightly underperformed yes, but nothing to cry about). I hope you don't discard this criticism as some butthurt student who got a C, it was made more to vent my criticism over the course in general rather than cry about a bad grade. I'm sure a coalition will go to the deans and protest, and I'm sure that jackshit will result from the complaints (exactly like what happened when they came to class and ducked any questions). But I still feel it's unfair to those who had to receive Cs in this course. Cs should reflect the minimum level of understanding in a course, here I highly doubt (but could easily be wrong) that this occurred.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 8, 2008 10:42:57 PM

Thanks for filling out your points, anon, and I think we agree a lot more than we disagree. I also think that the major questions on my exam very much fit your model: anyone who smartly described Hyle and Hayes (that's the minimum level of understanding") should not have gotten a C, and then the second part of each question demanded a lot of "critical thinking" and "creativity" (and did so, I am proud to say, in a real-world setting rather than through a far-fetched hypo).

Moreover, in terms of testing different skills, in question 1, the pressure of time was eliminated in favor of the pressure of space; in question 2 (and 3), there was limited time and maximal space. Finally, I believe all the assignments in our class --- not just the exam, but also class and blog discussions and the optional oral dialogue --- rewarded "creative approaches to difficult questions." Gosh knows I did not act like a faculty "sheep" in this course because I tried a creative approach to the difficult question of how to best teach and test Legislation material. But, obviously, I have gotten a failing grade from you in my efforts.

I fear that you may not have fully appreciated (or i may not have fully explained) how difficult the questions on the exam were. If someone had done the assigned reading from the text (and also some on the blog), he or she would have wanted to write 10,000 words for question 1 to show off knowledge and critical thinking skills. Thus, a key skill being tested was an ability to show off --- and that's what an exam is, after all, a show-off opportunity --- in a limited space. (The mid-term paper also stressed this skill in a different way, and this is a skill that all lawyers in serious jobs must have.)

As for you criticisms of the course, I hear them and do not completely disagree. Together we all struggled to figure out the best way to develop our collective experience, and I believe I made a radical shift in approach and emphasis after I heard student concerns. Again, I am sorry you ended up so disgusted, but now I am really confused about what really drives the disgust.

Was it my (failed?) effort to try a number of innovative teaching and testing techniques? Was it my disinclination to replicate the standard, read, quiz, reflect, repeat style of the standard 1L classroom experience? Was it my failure to effective explain how I was trying to test a different set of critical thinking skills --- particularly the skill of being able to figure out what an opaque and quirky "judge" was looking for in an answer.

I do not know if you expended this kind of energy in class before, but I hope you did and that you will also continue to share your insights about both the class and exams. And, as i said before, if you are interested, you can always have a "serious" job working as my RA.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 9, 2008 7:58:50 AM

This is silly. Berman's grading was no more or less arbitrary than any other professor's. You just don't like the fact you got a poor grade. People were bound to bitch about this class if they got less than a B, but you had the choice of dropping it. Most importantly, from what he is indicating, there is a discernible difference between an A and a C.

For the record I got something in the B range and I think it is deserved.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 9, 2008 1:57:19 PM

When you have a "serious job," is one of the job requirements to post anonymous blog entries to your boss complaining about work assignments? If so, you'll do great!

Posted by: anon | Jun 9, 2008 4:38:17 PM

Thank you for providing more basis for why I chose to post anonymously. Had you bothered to take the 5 minutes out of your day to read both posts you may have realized that I already said I did not do poorly in this course. Sometimes people speak out because it needs to be said, not because they're sore losers.

Your cute posts have provided even more basis for students in our large section to post anonymously. Post a criticism and be lambasted as a butthurt student with a bad grade. Sheer idiocy. Berman asked for critiques - I did not enjoy the class but I bet the pass line and rolled a 7. Does this disqualify me from posting a criticism? I would hope people could see past their own interests for a moment and reflect on what actually transpired in class.

Saying we had the option to drop the course does nothing to speak to the merits of the course. Of course we could have dropped the course, but that requires a cost/benefit analysis with little criteria available. This presents the entire problem with the course, no one knew what the hell was going on until the last few weeks. I guess we could have all gambled on this (and we essentially did), but this is a moot point. It's not as if we sat down and felt behind, there was never a forward or behind to be concerned with. To me that is a valid issue to speak about, perhaps you should consider the broader questions that Prof. Berman asked rather than trying to defend your B+.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 9, 2008 6:22:29 PM

Good for you. I am glad you did well in the course and are speaking your mind. I am glad you feel you got "lucky." I do not.

While the course could have been better structured during the first half, Berman did set the goalposts and told you how many yards you had to get a first down and then a touchdown. It's not his fault that, as with all law classes, some people are more intramural players instead of pros. That's just life, the curve makes sure that is true for first year classes, and you just deal with it.

So yes, I am going to defend my "B+" because I earned it just as the person who got a 100 on the exam earned their grade and the person who got a 70 earned their grade. I do not see anything functionally wrong with the material on which the grade was based.

Could Berman be a better teacher? Sure, and I am sure he'd tell you that too. I think he has also recognized that he bungled much of the first half of the class. But the criteria on which we were graded, whether it was 2 cases or 200, was fair and equally approachable for everyone.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 9, 2008 6:40:08 PM

But that is my point, of course the material was fair, it was the only thing we covered for the remainder of the course. No one opened their final exam and was confused, shocked, or dumbfounded, everyone thought "hey great I know Hayes inside and out" and went to work. However that shows the problem. Everyone (or so I hope) knew Hayes and Hyle. Of course they did it's all that we covered for weeks. Asking questions about those cases left very little room for distinguishing oneself. Though Prof. Berman did say that he felt there was a large difference between an A and a C, I find this hard to believe in any objective sense. If he means subjectively there was, I'm sure that's true, but I would prefer my exams to be graded on objective criteria without reliance on cute sentence structure. I'm glad Prof. Berman enjoyed the way I wrote, but if every professor graded that subjectively my grades would likely reflect some roller coaster and be nothing more than an arbitrary number attached to my name.

I'm glad you think you did well - but I'm afraid that everyone felt this way. I find it hard to believe that anyone turned in their final and felt that they dropped the ball. This will only result in many answers raising the minimum threshold that should have garnered a C in another course. Because of this, there are no traditional C's in this course, and those that received a C likely did the objective work required for a B, but through some subjective preference were handed a C. Sure some subjectivity is going to occur in grading, but what I consider ideal grading would minimize subjectivity as much as conceivably possible. The format of our final did the complete opposite.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 9, 2008 7:22:34 PM

"I would prefer my exams to be graded on objective criteria."

There is always medical school, or any other grad program that has multiple choice tests.

Law is inherently subjective.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 9, 2008 8:07:31 PM

Sigh, it seems you missed the point entirely. I'll assume the fault for this as perhaps I was a bit unclear in my point.

From my exchange with Prof. Berman it would seem that we agree on what grading criteria should be used for examinations. Our disagreement stems from the fact that he feels the final exemplified this approach whereas I feel it fell short.

I have never indicated a preference for multiple-guess exams and they would be a terrible way to evaluate anyone as a future attorney. By objective criteria I simply meant criteria based on such things as critical thinking, legal analysis, etc., argument based in fact. By subjective criteria I am referring to things such as sentence structure, word-choice, etc. that finds its meaning more in someone's subjective opinion rather than in anything objectively identifiable. I would prefer to be graded based on the former and I feel that given the subject matter for the exam, the latter may have held much more weight than it should. How this became a debate over going to multiple-guess exams I am not sure, but I assure you that was never my intent.

I hope this has cleared up any confusion over the issue.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 9, 2008 9:56:11 PM

Well, the MBE and MPRE are multiple choice, I do believe.

I disagree with your assessment that the exam fell short of the criteria on which you both agree. But reasonable people can agree to disagree. Best of luck.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 9, 2008 11:51:57 PM

"A judge is a law student who grades his own papers."
-H. L. Mencken

Posted by: Legal Beagle | Jun 10, 2008 1:08:42 PM

For those interested, the Con Law grades have been posted (the Registrar's Blog doesn't reflect that information, but the grades are available in your personal folder on that site).

Posted by: Anon | Jun 10, 2008 2:48:17 PM

Hopefully someone got a better grade in Con Law...

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 10, 2008 3:41:22 PM

Anyone interested in sponsoring a Berman v. Foley mudwrestling match?

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 10, 2008 3:54:04 PM

Cute that yet again the only thing offered in rebuttal is that I got a bad grade and am lashing out. I have already stated this is not and was never my motivation for voicing criticism. This was meant to be in the vein of "Nixon goes to China" but it seems people are too simple to see past their own self interest.

I believe Prof. Berman requested that we post our feelings regarding the course and I have done exactly that. Whether I did well or poorly does not change my opinion that the class fell short of any cognizable goal. What a shame that I complied with the professor's wishes, if only I could say the same about the rest of the commentators.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 10, 2008 5:48:20 PM

Why the need to be so cutting and condescending towards your fellow students, Anonymous?

Posted by: hmmm | Jun 10, 2008 10:11:01 PM

I'm sorry you felt that I was being condescending toward other students. I am just upset that I offered, what I feel, a valid critique of the course and was dismissed as being sad over a bad grade. I have repeatedly tried to point out that my grade had nothing to do with my motivation for posting, in fact I received some benefit from this grade. The professor wanted a discussion of the course now that it is all said and done, and I have tried to present my view that the course was ultimately a failure.

No students have tried to refute any of this, but rather they have only attempted to paint me as some type of sore loser upset with a bad grade. I would be happy to see well-thought out rebuttals, but as of yet no such posts have been made.

Also, I accept the blame for the derailment of this thread. I think my first post (check the email in my posts, it remains a constant and it is working if you would like to chat there) came across as overly critical and in hindsight I should have been more restrained. However I would still like to speak with students who share the same opinion or feel very differently about the course. I find it hard to believe that in a course where the deans had to come in and address the class that no one else has an opinion. I assume the "coalition" (by this I refer to those students who went to the deans) simply got As and could care less now. Pity that they don't feel the need to speak out on something important because it might be adverse to their personal interest. Ironically, isn't this exactly what the professor tried to teach us?

Truly, I feel bad for those who received Cs in this course. In any other course, I would be much more elitist and tell them to cry about it and study some more, but I simply can't have that attitude in this class. It boiled down to far more luck than I think is acceptable and I feel this needs to be discussed.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 11, 2008 12:05:59 AM

So, this is what happens when law students at the end of their first year are given the chance to post—anonymously!---on a blog. Wow. This has been fascinating—and a bit disturbing. But I do feel fortunate that we have this opportunity to vent, to discuss, to debate.

I posted anonymously on the blog earlier in the semester. It was after the vote we had after Contracts on the final format. I felt that the voting system was flawed—I did not know what I was voting for, and I was frustrated—with the class, with people in the class, with the professor. I posted anonymously because so much of the talk in and around the class was hostile and mean. I posted anonymously because I knew some students in the class were calling other students “pussies” for complaining about the class, for going to the deans, for writing a petition—and I was one of those students, part of the “coalition,” I guess—or, to others, a “pussy.”

And now, miles away from school, mentally and geographically, I will post non-anonymously.

I stand by what I believed then, and what I voiced about the class back then—that the main problem was a lack of clear expectations. But something in the class changed along the way. Maybe it got better, maybe I got “it” better. Was it perfect? No way. Did the expectations become crystal clear? No. But I began to realize that even as much as I had initially complained about the class, I still talked about the class and thought about the topics we discussed more than I did in most other classes. And I thought the final format was terrific, for reasons I have expressed on an earlier thread.

I disagree with some of the ideas expressed by “ghazard” (the prolific anonymous poster)—namely, that the final was simple and invited repetition for asking the most basic questions. I am going to play the age card here, as I work my fourth “serious” job, and say that many of the questions I have faced in life and work are “basic” and often just boil down to what Prof. Berman asked over and over again—“Is it a good thing? Is it bad thing? I don’t know!” The challenge is, of course, in crafting a thoughtful response to the basic question.

Also, I do not agree that there is a great distinction between “objective” criteria, as ghazard wrote, that includes critical thinking skills and analyses, and “subjective” criteria, which ghazard referred to as sentence structure and word-choice. Sentence structure and word choice are the tools we use to show our critical thinking and analytical skills.

To me, what stood out about the final for the class, is that, in contrary to some of our other exams, I feel that I learned from the process of taking Prof. Berman’s final. I also feel, thanks to the final question on the exam (which I loved answering) and to the post-mortem discussion on this blog, that I am part of teaching Prof. Berman about what worked in the class and what didn’t. And that goes with my whole education philosophy, that it’s a reciprocal process, that we the students are also teachers, to our professors, and to each other.

Moving away from the final to what I learned from the class as a whole, I feel this class was less about "content," however you want to define that, and more about learning from an entire class experience, from what Berman talked to us aboout in class, from how we acted and reacted to the class and Berman's style over the course of the semester, from what the deans did (or did not do), from how the class changed, and from, of course, the blog.

And I am still learning from the class. The fact that so many of us are still checking this blog and posting on it does say something. So while I do disagree with much of what ghazard has said, I am glad he/she is saying it, and that we are reading it, and discussing it. And finally—damn, am I glad that the first year of law school is over.

Posted by: stephanie | Jun 11, 2008 1:10:12 AM

re: anonymous 5:48, maybe you felt a bit of a backlash because you started attacking your fellow students in your first post? I dunno. While Berman asked for criticism of the class/exam/him, it was completely out of line to preemptively attack other students.

Posted by: anonymous | Jun 11, 2008 8:56:15 AM

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