Professor David Sandomierski awarded CALT prize

June 13, 2022

David SandomierskiProfessor David Sandomierski, together with co-authors Professor John Bliss (University of Denver Sturm College of Law) and Tayzia Collesso (JD Western Law 2022), has been awarded the CALT Scholarship of Teaching & Learning Award for their paper “Pass for Some, Fail for Others: Law School Grading Changes in the Early Covid-19 Pandemic.” The annual CALT Prize for Scholarship of Teaching & Learning honours exceptional contributions to the scholarship of teaching and learning by a Canadian law teacher. This is the second time Professor Sandomierski has been a recipient of this award, having won it previously in 2017.

In their paper, Professor Sandomierski and his co-authors draw on approximately 2,000 survey responses submitted during and after the Spring 2020 semester to conclude that the Pass/Fail schemes adopted in the wake of the COVID pandemic had minimal negative impact on law student effort, performance, and learning, and a positive impact on anxiety alleviation. But, they caution, this was a double-edged sword: while noting that removing grades benefited some students who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, they also highlighted the fact that many students from historically underrepresented groups emphasized that the absence of grades eliminated the opportunity to demonstrate merit as a means to counteract discrimination, stereotypes, and biased notions of cultural fit in the legal job market.

According to Professor Sandomierski “our take-home message was that while the ability of hierarchical grades to signal merit can foster equity under the right conditions this upside is diminished when students face unusually difficult circumstances.” His recommendations? “My co-authors and I believe that we should continue to adopt an experimental attitude when it comes to grading schemes while keeping in mind that any move away from hierarchical grading may prove to be detrimental to some students from historically underrepresented groups. We should be open-minded but vigilant.”

According to Professor Angela Cameron (Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa), the President of CALT, Professor Sandomierski’s paper deals with “an urgent issue that has arisen during the pandemic, but is also more broadly relevant to legal education as we continue to debate the merits of a grade-based system in a changing legal profession.” She expressed the hope that the paper’s results will “provide an important empirical milestone for future research in the area.”

Research for this project was conducted by Tayzia Collesso when she was a JD student at Western Law, and was supported by Western University’s Undergraduate Summer Research Internship (USRI) program. (For more information about the USRI program see Beginning July 1, 2022, Professor Sandomierski will begin a three-year term as a Teaching Fellow with Western’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, where he will continue to work on the scholarship of teaching and learning in the context of legal education.