Yesterday, University of San Diego School of Law professor Jean Ramirez admitted to her 1L criminal law class that exams from last Fall were incorrectly graded:
Dear Sections D & E,
Yesterday, I discovered that the fall 2010 Criminal Law grades were inaccurate due to a data entry error. As you know, the midterm exam was supposed to constitute 25% of the final grade and the final exam 75% of the final grade. Unfortunate mistakes in data entry reversed the intended weight of the exams.
The data has been correctly reentered into the law school’s grading program, and new grades have been posted. Many of you will have no grade change. Those of you who now have a higher grade will be elated, and those of you who now have a lower grade will be disappointed. Whether your grade is higher, lower, or the same, what is important here is that you receive the grade you earned. I am, however, truly sorry for any grief this situation causes any of you.
Understandably, some of you will be concerned about how a change in your grade may affect your overall academic status. You will be contacted by the Office for JD Student Affairs if a grade change affects your participation in the program of First Year Academic Supervision. If you would like to discuss how any grade change affects your academic standing in general, please contact [Redacted].
My sincerest apology to all of you,
Professor of Law
University of San Diego
Given that 1L students applying for summer jobs only have 3-4 grades on their transcript (depending on whether their legal writing and research class is graded, or pass/fail), this is a big freaking deal, and it's quite likely that some students either were denied jobs because their grades were incorrectly low, or simply did not apply to some jobs, believing they didn't meet the grade criteria.
While accidents are bound to happen, this problem could have been entirely avoided if the professor had simply returned exams to the students and posted the curve of the class. The error would have been caught the next day, and not 4 months later. But, many classes never return exams to the students, and exams that are returned tend to contain a number or letter grade and nothing else.
The way law school exams are presently graded means that errors may never be caught, but it also means that errors the student made also go uncorrected. If you get a B in Evidence, you know you got some of the rules wrong, but you don't know which. Or, maybe you knew all the rules, but applied the facts wrong, or didn't go into enough depth.
Yes, you can usually schedule a meeting with your professor to go over your exam, but that form of feedback is highly problematic. Students with poor grades are likely to feel embarrassed and aren't going to be too eager to schedule a meeting, especially with a professor they likely find intimidating. Would you want to sit in a professor's office and listen to him explain to you why you are wrong about so many things? Probably not. But, you might more easily take to heart written feedback on your exam.
And, the whole exam conference system only works because no one uses it. If every student in a 100 person class wants a 20 minute meeting to go over their exam, and the professor schedules 2 office hours during the week, it will take 4 months for the professor to see every student, and that's assuming the professor doesn't need office hours for anything else, such as the class he is currently teaching, and every spot is able to be filled, which is unlikely due to scheduling conflicts.
Perhaps it's time for law professors to catch up to the rest of academia and start providing substantive feedback to students as the norm, not the exception.