TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Organ: MBE Is More to Blame Than Deteriorating Student Quality for Lower Bar Pass Rates

Following up on my earlier posts (here and here):  The Legal Whiteboard:  What Might Have Contributed to an Historic Year-Over-Year Decline In the MBE Mean Scaled Score?, by Jerry Organ (St. Thomas):

The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has taken the position that the historic drop in the MBE Mean Scaled Score of 2.8 points between the July 2013 administration of the bar exam (144.3) and the July 2014 administration of the bar exam (141.5) is solely attributable to a decline in the quality of those taking a bar exam this July. ... I am not persuaded. (Neither is Brooklyn Law School Dean Nicholas Allard, who has responded by calling the letter “offensive” and by asking for a “thorough investigation of the administration and scoring of the July 2014 exam.” Nor is Derek Muller, who earlier today posted a blog suggesting that the LSAT profile of the class of 2014 did not portend the sharp drop in MBE scores.)  ...

If one looks at the LSAT distribution of the matriculants in 2011 (who became the graduating class of 2014) and compares it with the LSAT distribution of the matriculants in 2010 (who became the graduating class of 2013), the NCBE probably is correct in noting that the group that sat in July 2014 is slightly “less able” than the group that sat in July 2013.  But for the reasons set forth below, I think the NCBE is wrong to suggest that this alone accounts for the historic drop in the MBE Mean Scaled Score. Rather, a comparison of the LSAT profile of the Class of 2014 with the LSAT profile of the Class of 2013 would suggest that one could have anticipated a modest drop in the MBE Mean Scaled Score of perhaps .5 to 1.0.  The modest decrease in the LSAT profile of the Class of 2014 when compared with the Class of 2013, by itself, does not explain the historic drop of 2.8 reported in the MBE Mean Scaled Score between July 2013 and July 2014. ...

In his article, Unpacing the Bar: Cut Scores, Competence and Crucibles, Professor Gary Rosin of the South Texas College of Law developed a statistical model for predicting bar passage rates for different LSAT scores.  I used his bar passage prediction chart to assess the “relative strength” of each entering class from 2001 through 2013. 

LSAT RANGE

Prediction of Bar Exam Success Based on Lowest LSAT in Range

175-180

.98

170-174

.97

165-169

.95

160-164

.91

155-159

.85

150-154

.76

145-149

.65

140-144

.50

135-139

.36

130-134

.25

Please note that for the purposes of classifying the relative strength of each class of matriculants, the precise accuracy of the bar passage predictions is less important than the fact of differential anticipated performance across groupings which allows for comparisons of relative strength over time.

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