Friday, March 2, 2018
Daniel 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.