Paul L. Caron

Friday, December 19, 2014

NCBE Responds to Law Deans' Complaints About Low Bar Passage Rates

NCBEFollowing up on my previous posts (links below):  Erica Moeser, President of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, has responded in a letter and column to complaints from dozens of law school deans about this year's sharp fall in bar passage rates.  Vikram Amar, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law at UC-Davis Law School,shares his preliminary thoughts with TaxProf Blog readers:

Her letter is noteworthy in a few respects, not the least of which is her steadfast refusal to turn over specifics about the adequacy of NCBE’s “equating” process (used to ensure that difficulty remains constant across test administrations) because such information is proprietary.  The tone of her letter also makes clear she feels attacked by law deans (which may understandable on her part).

[Her column] provides additional context for this controversy.  The column covers a lot of ground, but here are a few reactions:  (1) The suggestion that recent MPRE score declines can be seen as precursors to the 2014 MBE decline is interesting, and may tend to support her conclusion that the MBE was properly equated and scored -- assuming the MPRE has been properly equated and scored. (It also may tend to predict further erosion in MBE and bar pass rates in 2015); (2) The mention of LSAC’s change from using the average LSAT score to the highest LSAT score (of each taker) seems odd to me, since that change seems to have predated (by a number of years) the class entering fall of 2011 (that suffered the 2014 MBE decline); (3) The existence of larger transfer classes at some law schools in recent years (which she mentions) wouldn’t appear to say much about aggregate MBE performance (unless some kind of Sanderesque “mismatch” effect is occurring when people transfer to schools for which they are not suited); (4) All of the changes in law school curriculum and grading she discusses have been gradual, and thus wouldn’t easily explain an abrupt one-year change in bar performance.

All of this brings us to her point about the how the “tail of the [incoming credentials] curve” – the folks in the bottom quartile of entering law school class LSAT (and/or) UGPA profiles – is invisible.  To be sure, this may be a group that often struggles with bar passage, and a steeper-than-before drop-off within this group in the class that entered law school in 2011 could explain some decline in 2014 MBE performance.  I leave it to the true gearheads to tell us whether we have the data we need to make that tail more visible on a national level and, if so, what such a close-up view would tell us.  Maybe some of the commentary a month ago already did that, but Ms. Moeser’s response letter and accompanying column seem, at least, to have framed some of the issues more tightly.

Update:  Derek Muller (Pepperdine), NCBE Has Data to Prove Class of 2014 Was Worst in a Decade, and It's Likely Going to Get Worse

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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