Paul L. Caron

Friday, March 2, 2018

University Of Minnesota Study: Enhanced Individualized Feedback In One Core 1L Class Improves Student Performance In Other Classes

Minnesota LogoDaniel Schwarcz (Minnesota) & Dion Farganis (J.D. 2017, Minnesota), The Impact of Individualized Feedback on Law Student Performance, 67 J. Legal Educ. 139 (2017):

For well over a century, first-year law students have typically not received any individualized feedback in their core "doctrinal" classes other than their final exam grades. Although this pedagogical model has long been assailed by critics, remarkably limited empirical evidence exists regarding the extent to which enhanced feedback improves law students' outcomes. This Article helps fill this gap by focusing on a natural experiment at the University of Minnesota Law School.

The natural experiment arises from the random assignment of first-year law students to sections that take a common slate of classes, only some of which provide individualized feedback. Meanwhile, students in two different sections are occasionally grouped together into a "double section" first-year class. In these double section classes, students in sections that have previously or concurrently had a class providing individualized feedback consistently outperform students in sections that have not received any such feedback. The effect is both statistically significant and hardly trivial in magnitude, approaching about 1/3 of a grade increment even after controlling for students’ LSAT scores, undergraduate GPA, gender, race, and country of birth. The positive impact of feedback also appears to be stronger among lower-performing students.

These findings substantially advance the literature on law school pedagogy, demonstrating that individualized feedback in a single class during the first-year of law school can improve law students' performance in all of their other classes. Against the background of the broader literature on the importance of formative feedback in effective teaching, these findings also have a clear normative implication: law schools should systematically provide first-year law students with individualized feedback in at least one “core” doctrinal first-year class before final exams.  Doing so would almost certainly have positive distributional consequences and improve the fairness of law school grades. It would also likely promote students’ acquisition of relevant legal skills. Finally, this reform would help implement the American Bar Association’s recent requirement that law schools utilize formative assessment methods in their curricula.

Legal Education, Scholarship, Teaching | Permalink


For well over a century? Where have the authors been in this millennium? I started teaching in 2000, and have given "individualized feedback" (aka graded homework assignments) in 1L core classes (Civ Pro, Property) since I began teaching. The elite institutions may still be operating under that prior model, but formative assessment is the order of the day just about everywhere else.

Posted by: Diane Klein | Mar 3, 2018 8:08:22 AM

This study, along with an earlier one by Deborah Jones Merritt , demonstrates the importance of formative assessments for first-year students. The key point: a formative assessment in one class helps students improve in all their classes. If each first-year class provided well-designed formative assessments, then student performance should improve substantially.

Not only do law schools need to add skills courses in the second- and third-years to turn out lawyers better prepared for practice, they need to improve the first year. In addition to formative assessments, first-year students need active learning, instruction concerning metacognition, better study habits, and problem-solving exercises. Before students can develop specific skills like brief writing, trial skills, prelitigation skills, etc., they need to develop their basic cognitive legal skills.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Mar 2, 2018 9:56:17 AM