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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

California Considers Lowering Passing Score On July Bar Exam

Press Release, State Bar Releases Study of California Bar Exam Passing Score:

Today the State Bar of California released a standard setting study of the pass line for the California Bar Exam. The study, along with options presented by staff, will be discussed at a joint meeting of the Committee of Bar Examiners and Board of Trustees’ Admissions and Education Committee on Monday, July 31, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The public meeting will be held at the State Bar's Los Angeles office, and will be webcast.

memo from staff to the Committee of Bar Examiners presents two potential options, based on an analysis of a Standard Setting Study conducted by Chad Buckendahl, Ph.D. One option, drawing from findings in the study which validate the current pass line of 1440, is to make no change to the bar exam passing score at this time. A second option is to consider an interim passing score of 1414 (or 141.4 on the commonly-used 200-point scale) to be applied to grading the July 2017 bar exam.

"The State Bar has responded to the Court's direction to support the development of an important study to determine the appropriate cut score. The process has been as thorough, diligent, and inclusive as possible, given tight time constraints, for potential application to the July 2017 Bar Exam," said Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, Executive Director of the State Bar of California. Parker previously served for a decade as dean at University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law.

In February 2017 the Supreme Court of California directed the State Bar to undertake a series of comprehensive studies of the California Bar Exam, including a review of the pass line (also commonly referred to as the cut score), and to present the studies and recommendations by Dec. 1, 2017. The Court holds the ultimate authority to set the pass line for the Bar Exam. The State Bar is a judicial branch agency and an administrative arm of the Court.

The State Bar accelerated the study of the pass line in order to allow for the possibility of applying a potential new score to the July 2017 Bar Exam. Results of the July California Bar Exam are usually released in November. The July 2017 exam was held July 25-26.

Anticipated next steps in the process of determining whether to apply a new pass line to the California Bar Exam:

  • The Committee of Bar Examiners meets jointly with the Admissions & Education Committee of the State Bar’s Board of Trustees on Monday, July 31.
  • The committees will discuss Dr. Buckendahl’s study and staff options. They will also vote on whether to adopt the study and put one or both of the options out for public comment.
  • Public comment period from Aug. 1 – Aug. 25, 2017, including two public hearings.
  • Following the public comment period, the Committee of Bar Examiners will review public comment and finalize a recommendation to submit to the Board of Trustees, to be considered at that body’s Sept. 6-7 meeting. The Board of Trustees will then submit a formal proposal to the California Supreme Court regarding the bar exam pass line.
  • The California Supreme Court will ultimately determine what the pass line should be for the California Bar Exam and, if there is a change, when it should be applied.
  • Results of the July bar exams are generally released in November.

"I'd like to thank the deans of law schools around the state who provided invaluable input," Parker said. "We look forward to additional public comment going forward in order to help the State Bar develop a recommendation for an appropriate pass line that could potentially be submitted to the Supreme Court this fall. The State Bar remains committed to ensuring that all Californians have access to ethical and qualified attorneys to help them navigate legal matters."

More information about the California Bar Exam studies:

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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"One option, drawing from findings in the study which validate the current pass line of 1440, is to make no change to the bar exam passing score at this time....Several factors, beyond the Study's validation of the current score, support maintenance of the status quo..."

It seems to me, in light of the Study, that a decision to alter the "validated" existing cut score would be little more than a law school bail out mitigating the otherwise obvious consequences of arguably greedy and short sighted admissions practices of late...

Posted by: Anon | Aug 1, 2017 2:42:30 PM

For me, a 70.7% score on an exam is .8% above a "D" grade. The 141.4 score on a 200 point exam is just that. Does anyone remember the movie "Dumb and Dumber"? This is nothing more than a bailout for law schools in California and continues the downward qualitative spiral of law schools. By the way, foisting intellectually limited lawyers on helpless clients is not exactly a furtherance of the nobility and integrity of the legal profession. Nor does it strengthen the institutions of law and justice. Of course one interesting thing is that failed or marginal lawyers often run for legislative and judicial office so since most of the graduates will remain in California it will be interesting to see what effect a dramatically declining bar has on the state's other aspect

Posted by: David | Aug 2, 2017 7:56:08 AM