Harvard and Stanford's Adoption of the Yale Law School Grading System:

Orin Kerr and I have plenty of disagreements. But as a Yale Law School grad, I agree with his criticisms of the YLS grading system, and am somewhat disappointed that other schools are copying it. For those who may not know, the YLS grading system replaces traditional letter grades with a constricted three grade scale (Honors, Pass, and Low Pass). In practice, most Yale grades are either H's or P's; Low Passes are rare. Technically, students can also fail a class. But this penalty is only imposed on an extremely unlucky and inept few.

The Yale system is very popular with students, in part because it enables those at the bottom of the class to post respectable transcripts that make it difficult to tell exactly where they stand relative to their classmates. It also enables students at all levels to slack off in some classes without damaging their records much. As Orin notes, the system greatly reduces the informational value of grades by ensuring that the vast majority of students get mostly P's, with perhaps occasional H's. In practice, the YLS "P" seems to encompass all the grades ranging from a B+ or low A- to a C or C- on the traditional grading scale. Thus, "C" students' transcripts look very similar to those of B students. Employers allow YLS to get away with this because even low-ranking Yale grads are usually considered good candidates for jobs at major firms. Harvard and Stanford grads probably also have enough prestige to get away with it for the same reason.

Still, it's unfortunate that Harvard and Stanford transcripts will now provide less useful information than before, thereby reducing the efficiency of employer hiring. And though I may not be as much of an old-fashioned meritocrat as Orin, I too don't especially like a grading system that reduces the cost of slacking off.