August 27, 2013
Should we disclose bar exam scores?
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Education, was in the news yesterday. The Wall Street Journal's Marketplace section covered on President Obama's call for eliminating the third year of law school.  Old ground, that.  But front page news was a new post-college graduation assessment test, the CLA+ which, "instead of measuring subject-area knowledge, it assesses things like critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication."  The article blames GPA inflation for why employers can't trust good grades anymore.

Which got me thinking: if only there was a test administered to all graduating law students to assess their learning that could signal their relative worth to employers. 

Wait a minute...

I know very little about the disclosure of bar results, but my impression is that scores are not generally disclosed, unless you fail. Right now, law schools disclose bar passage rate by school, but nothing more granular.

Why not?  If the holy grail of law school rankings is measuring outcomes, aren't those scores meaningful data?  Prospective students might well care that graduates of Law School A score higher than graduates of School B. Employers would presumably like it even more.  Particularly if broken up by subject matter, employers would able to compare their prospective employees on the basis of their performance in business organizations, or trusts and estates, rather than whether they scored an A or A- in subjects taught by different professors at different schools with different schools.

I know the bar is an imperfect assessment mechanism, and that currently students are advised (as I was) to aim to pass and no more. And that, unless the bar exam changes, we'll have a lot more teaching to the test, with all the negatives that implies for critical thinking, for clinical training, and for a host of other valuable law school experiences.  So I'm not advocating this approach, exactly.  It just struck me, as I read yesterday's paper, that if outcome assessments become the new normal, the minimum-competency model of the bar exam may change.



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