Thursday, November 13, 2014

Debate Begins on Reason for Drop in National Bar Passage Rates









Graduate Competence or 
Design and Scoring Problems?


On Monday, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reported the onset of a debate about the surprising drop in bar passage rates on a national basis.  It said: 
A steep decline in bar exam scores on the most recent test has led to an outbreak of finger-pointing over who’s to blame for the downward swing. 
In a sharply worded letter, the dean of Brooklyn Law School on Monday reproached the head of a national bar exam group for suggesting to law school leaders that their graduates who took the July exam were less prepared than students who sat for the test in previous years. 
The dean’s letter came in response to an October memo by Erica Moeser, the president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, addressed to law school deans across the country in which she defended the integrity of the group’s exam and raised concerns about the ability of the would-be lawyers who took it.
... 
She continued: “While we always take quality control of MBE scoring very seriously, we redoubled our efforts to satisfy ourselves that no error occurred in scoring the examination or in equating the test with its predecessors. The results are correct. . . All point to the fact that the group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013.” 
Brooklyn Law School Dean Nicholas W. Allard fired back on Monday with a letter to Ms. Moeser. He said he found her assertions unconvincing and demanded a “thorough investigation of the administration and scoring” of the July 2014 exam. 
“We don’t know what evidence you have to support this surprising (and surprisingly disparaging) claim, but we do have evidence about our own 2014 graduates, and it tells us precisely the opposite: their credentials were every bit as good as our 2013 graduates, if not even better,” he wrote. 
Ms. Moeser couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday. 
Ms. Moeser’s letter didn’t cite specific scoring data for the exam given in July. But it gels with figures released by states showing significant declines in the passage rates for many of them. 
The overall passage rate for the Texas exam given in July, for example, was 11 percentage points lower than last year’s results. Idaho, Iowa, Oregon and Washington were among other states reporting sharp drops. 
The passage rate for Brooklyn Law School graduates who took the bar for the first time in July was nearly 10 percentage points lower than last year’s rate, Mr. Allard told Law Blog. He said the median LSAT score for the 2013 and 2014 cohorts was 163 in both cases. A private institution in downtown Brooklyn, Mr. Allard’s law school enrolls about 1,000 full-time students.

“What is her basis for saying the students are less able? I think that’s offensive. I don’t believe it,” Mr. Allard, who is also a senior partner at Squire Patton Boggs, told Law Blog on Monday.

November 16, 2014 Update: Another point of view.  And, another.

November 20, 2014 Update:  Story about dip in bar pass rates at all Texas law schools. Chart in linked story. 

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