Last updated: April 30, 2012 6:01 pm
No more letter grades at the University of Toronto's law school
New grading system will be the first of its kind in Canada
TORONTO (CUP) — A school within the University of Toronto could be the first post-secondary institution in Canada to eliminate the letter grading system.
Instead of the traditional A to F letter grades, a new system would see students in the faculty of law at the U of T being graded with wider-ranging honours, pass or fail decisions.
The proposed idea has been accepted at the university level. Final tweaks are being made by the law school’s dean, which will have to then be approved by the faculty of the law school.
According to faculty of law assistant dean Sara Faherty, the shift means that students will be able to further concentrate on their work without worrying over studying certain aspects of the course.
“Rather than raising their hands and saying, ‘Is this going to be on the test?’ we wanted them really diving into the material,” said Faherty. “I don’t think this is a grading system that would work at every school.”
Faherty added that in the process of developing the grading system, research was done into several U.S. law schools at universities such as Yale, Harvard and Stanford that already use a similar system.
The new grades, instead of the usual letter grades, would be high honours, honours, pass, low pass and fail.
“If you’ve got a particular student body, you’re not going to worry about whether they’ve done the reading or whether they understand the vocabulary of the text," Faherty said in reference to the high academic focus of the U of T's law school.
"Then, that liberates you from having to spend so much time on sorting through them and ranking them.”
The change in the grading system has also highlighted the idea of stress levels in students, as many raise concerns over what particular grade or cumulative GPA they will receive. The grouped grading system could be seen as a method of eliminating these worries, saving students from added stress.
“That was certainly one of the driving concerns when we sat down to look at our grading system,” said Faherty.
However, some have asked whether stress over the difference between an A- and a B+ is the biggest concern for students.
“I’m not sure that just eliminating the traditional letter grades … would have a significant impact on student stress level,” said University of Toronto faculty of medicine professor Mel Borins. “I think it would be a minor kind of shift.”
“I think that’s … sort of like, the wallpaper got changed but nothing changed inside the room. It’s like you’re in a cell and you rearrange the furniture, but you’re still in a cell,” Borins added.
Major causes of student stress, according to Borins, do not revolve around certain grades but more personal issues.
“Students are stressed out mainly around issues of money … whether they’re going to find a job if they do pass all their courses, there’s the stress of family life and their love life, and … the huge workload that sometimes they have to deal with.”
“You can get the best marks, you can be the brightest student — but if you can't pay the tuition, you can't support yourself while you’re going through school and you have to work two jobs, that’s not conducive,” added Borins.