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General Concerns About The Pass/Fail Project

negative aspects to the CyberOne pass/fail option


In the public arena, we are "graded" all the time on subjective criteria. We are often judged based on our creativity or lack thereof. We are always performing. Poor artistry has consequences on self and others. For example, the successful trial lawyer often depends on creative argument more so than on analytical rules of logic to make a case. Where the lawyer fails, the client may be deprived of life, liberty, property, or dignity.

Perhaps our fear of failure is misplaced. We fear the uncertain bad grade. Instead, our concerns should be with the uncertain consequences our performances may have in our daily and professional lives. If anything, grading schemes in typical law school classes falsely reflect real life. In real life, grading isn't blind, nor is it based on facility with contrived hypothetical fact patterns. Instead, total success requires properly speaking the languages of love, passion, and inspiration. And lasting success depends on rising up from apparent defeat, even if defeat is seemingly dealt arbitrarily or unexpectedly. Grading in CyberOne would reveal an understanding of the real world that grading in most law school classes fails to offer.

General counterarguments:

  • Students taking the pass/fail option will not work as hard as those taking it for a grade and/or will be less engaged with the class, which could end up working against the collaborative, participative goals of the class
  • Students taking the course for a grade will end up shouldering the burden for "collaborative" group projects (either because they insist on doing most of the work to ensure they get a good grade or because P/F students are apathetic and don't have enough of an incentive to contribute and work hard)
  • If CyberOne gets a pass/fail option, other classes will ask for it too
  • A pass/fail option will attract students to the class for the wrong reason; students seeking an "easy" class may end up taking spots away from students genuinely interested in the CyberOne experiment (applies to future years, obviously, not this year)

Specific Concerns About the Proposal

The proposal as currently drafted says "There are no negative aspects to the CyberOne pass/fail option."

The proposed method to avoid "curve shifting" may exacerbate grade inflation. If, indeed, those opting for the pass/fail option would be so unmotivated that their poor performance would otherwise guarantee a poor grade, the students who are left to accept the graded option would potentially receive "easy A's" due to the lack of worthy competition. This potential concern ought to be addressed in the proposal.