Larry Cunningham (Associate Dean for Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness), Assessment in a Time of Coronavirus and Closed Campuses:
Today is March 15, 2020, and, by now, most law schools have either announced a transition to fully online teaching or set a date when they will begin doing so. Although many schools have said that this situation is temporary and will last for no more than a few weeks, my personal prediction is that most schools will not resume face-to-face teaching this semester. This post invites faculty and administrators to think now about the consequences for assessment during this challenging time.
Although my usual interest is in programmatic assessment, here I am writing specifically about course-based assessment. On the one hand, the next six seeks or so may be an opportunity for faculty to provide more formative assessments to students, such as low-stakes quizzes, essays, and discussion posts. Such activities are a way to keep students engaged with material.
However, there is a looming assessment issue that will require some attention sooner rather than later: how to engage in the typical end-of-semester summative assessments, such as final exams and, for skills classes, final activities. The questions that a law school must answer are several and complex:
- How will we administer high-stakes final exams if our school is not physically open?
- How will we ensure exam integrity? In normal circumstances, students will typically take such exams in secure environments with proctors and other measures designed to counter cheating.
- Can our exam technology support question types other than essay, such as multiple choice?
- Will faculty need to adapt exams to be delivered online or through means that rely on an honor system to guard against cheating? Are closed book exams practical or warranted in this situation?
- What training will be needed for students and faculty if a new online platform is used, such as a locked down browser-based exam system like Respondus?
- Should we allow students to postpone exams or take a pass/fail option if they did not have access to online classes because they did not have Internet access at home?
- For faculty used to grading with paper essays, how will they adapt to grading online through PDFs?
- How will faculty submit grades? Should we extend deadlines for submission? How will this affect degree conferral and bar certification?
- Should we relax a mandatory grade curve?
- Should we suspend class ranking for the semester?
- How will we address students who believe their grades were adversely impacted by anxiety, quarantine, or displacement?
- Should we relax a scholarship retention policy that is based on meeting a minimum GPA? If so, how will we deal with the financial ramifications of that decision?
- Should we make modifications to other processes (e.g., law review selection) that involve selection based, at least in part, on GPA?
- What should we tell employers who recruit through the competitive on-campus interview process?
- To what an extent should these questions be decided by an individual faculty member, the faculty at-large, or the administration?
I wish I had easy, simple answers to these difficult questions. What I can offer, though, is a framework to think through the issues.
First, it is important to recognize that there is not a perfect solution to many of the questions. No matter what is decided, there will be unhappy students or faculty who complain that the decision is unfair. Communications to students should reflect that the law school gave consideration to various options and that there is not a perfect solution given the circumstances.
Second, a lot of the issues listed above revolve around how we sort students (e.g., law review selection, class rank, OCI, and scholarship retention). The law school should decide the extent to which this sorting is important. The answer is likely to vary school-by-school.
Third, related to the second question, what is the culture of the school? Does it favor faculty governance or deference to the administration? Is there a culture of self-policing by students for honor code compliance?
Fourth, what is the capability of the faculty, administration, and technology at the law school to deviate from existing practices?
Thinking about this framework first can help resolve some of the specific questions later. It ensures some degree of consistency in approach between, for example, exam administration and grading. The framework also takes into account the unique situation and culture of each school.
I have seen some Twitter traffic in the last few days suggesting that law schools should just end the semester now and give all students a mark of “pass” for their courses. I hope this does not occur. As an initial matter, I doubt the ABA or other regulators would approve of this practice. More importantly, there are solutions—albeit imperfect ones—to the challenges we are facing. Giving up the semester should be a last resort. We owe it to our students to try to give them a quality experience. This includes assessing them in as fair a manner as practicable.
Once we have tackled all of these issues, we will have to confront a new challenge: the bar exam. If COVID-19 is still prevalent in July, will the bar exam go forward? What happens if it does not? I will leave those questions for another day.
Howard Wasserman (Florida International), Assessment in a Time of Cholera:
Larry Cunningham (St. John's) discusses assessments in the current situation--he raises a number of questions, then proposes a framework for answering them. He rejects the suggestion making the Twitter rounds (which some of my colleagues have offered) that we cancel the semester and give everyone a "pass" in the course; we have "solutions—albeit imperfect ones—to the challenges we are facing. Giving up the semester should be a last resort." ...
Read Larry's post; he goes deep into macro issues such as what to do about the curve, scholarship retention, rankings, etc. And looming over it all is who decides--how much is for individual faculty for individual classes, how much for faculty as a governing body, and how much for the administration.
TaxProf Blog coronavirus coverage:
- Evacuated From Wuhan, Law Prof Works On Her Law Review Article During 14-Day Mandatory Coronavirus Quarantine (Feb. 11, 2020)
- Mitchell Hamline To Train Peking Faculty To Deliver Online Legal Instruction To Replace Classes Cancelled Due To Coronavirus (Feb. 24, 2020)
- First Law School Closes Due To Coronavirus; Student At Second Law School Self-Quarantines Due To Exposure (Mar. 4, 2020)
- New York Law Student In Self-Quarantine After Exposure To Coronavirus (Mar. 4, 2020)
- Stanford, University Of Washington Cancel In-Person Classes (But Not Athletic Events), Students To Complete Courses And Exams On-Line; Duke Warns It May Be Forced To Do The Same After Spring Break (Mar. 7, 2020)
- The Impact Of COVID-19 On Legal Education (Mar. 8, 2020)
- Law Schools Shift Classes Online Amid COVID-19, But Can They Do It Successfully? (Mar. 11, 2020)
- ABA Loosens Reins On Online Legal Education Amid Coronavirus Spread (Mar. 13, 2020)
- COVID-19 And The Future Of The Academy (Mar. 13, 2019)
- Fair Use And Emergency Remote Teaching And Research (Mar. 15, 2020)
- Law Teaching In The Age Of Coronavirus (Mar. 15, 2020)
- Michael Hunter Schwartz (Dean, McGeorge), Towards A Modality-Less Model For Excellence In Law School Teaching (Mar. 16, 2020)
- Larry Cunningham (Associate Dean, St. John's), Cunningham: Assessment In A Time Of Coronavirus And Closed Campuses (Mar. 16, 2020)
- Coronavirus And The Great Online-Learning Experiment (Mar. 17, 2020)
- Academe’s Coronavirus Shock Doctrine: 'Faculty Should Hesitate Before Doing More' (Mar. 17, 2020)
- 100% Of Law Schools Have Moved Online Due To The Coronavirus (Mar. 18, 2020)
- Regulating In A Pandemic: Evaluating Economic And Financial Policy Responses To The Coronavirus Crisis (Mar. 18, 2020)
- March LSAT Is Canceled, Fate Of April Test Is Uncertain (Mar. 18, 2020)
- I Will Survive (Coronavirus Version For Law Professors Teaching Online) (Mar. 18, 2020)
- WSJ: Tax Law Changes Make Life Harder For Firms Facing Coronavirus Losses (Mar. 19, 2020)
- Law Schools Adopt Pass-Fail Grades As They Move Online Amid COVID-19 (Mar. 19, 2020)
- 30-Minute Webinar On Using Zoom For Law School Classes (Mar. 19, 2020)
- Tax Options For Economic Relief During The Coronavirus Crisis (Mar. 20, 2020)
- 13-Minute Video On Tips For Law Professors Teaching Online (Mar. 20, 2020)
- Weekly SSRN Tax Article Review And Roundup: Layser Reviews Evaluating Economic And Financial Policy Responses To The Coronavirus (Mar. 20, 2020)
- The Law Student Coronavirus Survival Guide (Mar. 21, 2020)
- C.S. Lewis: Studying Law In The Age Of Coronavirus (Mar. 22, 2020)
- NY Times: The Christian Response To The Coronavirus — Stay Home (Mar. 22, 2020)
- Moody's Downgrades Higher Education From 'Stable' To 'Negative' Due To The Coronavirus (Mar. 23, 2020)
- Adler: Grading In The Time Of Coronavirus — For Most Law Schools, Pass/Fail Is A Mistake (Mar. 23, 2020)
- Blackman: Law Schools Should Not Abandon Standard Grading Policies For All Students Due To The Coronavirus (Mar. 23, 2020)
- Free Online Content: Business Taxation/Subchapter K (Mar. 23, 2020)
- NALP Cannot Compel Law Firms To Move OCI To January, But Urges Communication About COVID-Related Changes (Mar. 24, 2020)
- The Bar Exam And The COVID-19 Pandemic: The Need For Immediate Action (Mar. 24, 2020)
- Symphony In The Age Of Coronavirus (Mar. 24, 2020)
- Hillary Clinton, 880,000 Others Have Viewed Arkansas Law Prof's Online Crim Pro Lecture (Mar. 24, 2020)
- 2019 Summer Associate Offers (98%) Hit All-Time High, But Coronavirus Casts Shadow Over 2020 Summer Programs (Mar. 25, 2020)
- Blackman: Law Professors Quietly Oppose Pass/Fail Grading (Mar. 25, 2020)
- 100% Of Higher Education Has Shifted Online Due To The Coronavirus (Mar. 25, 2020)
- Assessment In Online Law School Classes (Mar. 25, 2020)
- Test-At-Home Option During Coronavirus May Be Attractive To Applicants At 50+ Law Schools That Accept The GRE (Mar. 25, 2020)
- 'People Are Pissed': Pass/Fail Grading Controversy Roils Law Schools (Mar. 26, 2020)
- The New Normal At Pepperdine Caruso Law Online (Mar. 26, 2020)
- Blackman: Law Students Quietly Oppose Pass/Fail Grading (Mar. 26, 2020)
- Status Of July Bar Exam, August MPRE Exam (Mar. 26, 2020)
- Law Professor, Law Student Diagnosed With COVID-19 (Mar. 26, 2020)
- Law Students Share Anxiety, Support On Reddit Over Grading Policies In Wake Of Coronavirus (Mar. 27, 2020)
- NCBE To Decide By May 5 Whether It Will Provide MBE For July Bar Examinations (Mar. 27, 2020)
- Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline For The Age Of The Coronavirus: 'Hands ... Washing Hands' (Mar. 28, 2020)
- Zatz: The Case For Mandatory Pass/Fail Grading In Spring 2020 (Mar. 28, 2020)
- Muller: Thoughts About (And Mostly Against) Pass-Fail Law School Grading During Covid-19 (Mar. 29, 2020)
- Krauss: Should Law Schools Grade Pass-Fail This Semester? (Mar. 29, 2020)
- Klein: Prisoner's Dilemmas And Straw Men: A Response To Blackman, Adler, And Krauss On Law School Grading (Mar. 29, 2020)
- Zatz: Crisis Grading Policy 2.0 — Universality Over Carve-Outs (Mar. 29, 2020)
- University Of Chicago Law School Sticks To ‘Status Quo’ Grading, Bucking Peers’ Move To Mandatory Pass-Fail (Mar. 30, 2020)
- Massachusetts Joins New York In Postponing July Bar Exam (Mar. 30, 2020)
- Spivey: How Will COVID-19 Impact Law Schools? (Mar. 30, 2020)
- A Tax Prof's Day In Covid-19 America Without Child Care (Mar. 30, 2020)
- Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Arizona Board Of Regents Demanding Repayment Of Room & Board For Students Displaced By Covid-19 (Mar. 31, 2020)
- A Third Of MBA Admits May Defer; 43% Want Tuition Lowered If Classes Are Online (Mar. 31, 2020)
- Connecticut Is Third State To Postpone July Bar Exam (Mar. 31, 2020)
- Amid More Bar Exam Delays, Push For Diploma Privilege Grows (Mar. 31, 2020)
- AccessLex Donates $25,000 To Student Emergency Funds At All 200 Law Schools (Mar. 31, 2020)
- Law Schools' Pass/Fail Decision Doesn't Ace All Tests (Apr. 1, 2020)
- With Pass/Fail Now The Norm, Outlier Law Schools Face Student Backlash (Apr. 1, 2020)
- Hawaii Is Fourth State To Postpone July Bar Exam (Apr. 2, 2020)
- ‘A Decidedly Suboptimal Set of Circumstances’: Harvard Law Profs Evaluate Online Instruction (Apr. 2, 2020)
- Pepperdine Provides Covid-19 Legal Resources For Those In Need (Apr. 2, 2020)