Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Will Lowering Bar Exam Cut Score Produce More Black And Latino California Lawyers?

Following up on my previous post, California To Give Online Bar Exam On Oct. 5-6, Permanently Lower Cut Score, Provide Provisional Licensure For Class Of 2020 Grads:

California State Bar (2014)Los Angeles Times, By Easing Its Bar Exam Score, Will California Produce More Black and Latino Lawyers?:

For more than three decades, California has clung to one of the nation’s toughest testing standards for law school students hoping to practice law in the most populous state in the country.

But this month, the California Supreme Court, which oversees the state bar, agreed to lower the passing score for the exam, a victory for law school deans who have long hoped the change would raise the number of Black and Latino people practicing law.

After holding virtual meetings with law school graduates and deans, the state’s highest court this month permanently lowered the passing score, allowed for law school graduates to work temporarily under supervision with provisional licenses during the pandemic and permitted graduates to take the bar exam remotely in early October.

“There is absolutely no evidence that shows having a higher score makes for better lawyers,” said UCLA School of Law Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin, a longtime supporter of lowering the passing score. “There is significant evidence that it reduces the diversity of the bar.”

Forty percent of California’s population is white, 60% are people of color. But 68% of California lawyers are white, and only 32% are people of color, according to a new report by the State Bar of California.

UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said the court’s action would not have come now if it were not for the coronavirus outbreak. “I think they were trying to fashion a compromise that took into account the unique circumstances” of the health crisis, he said.

The Black Lives Matter movement also might have influenced the court. “On the one hand, the pressure to lower the score has existed for some time,” Chemerinsky said. “On the other hand, the racially disparate impact of the higher cut score may have had particular importance for the court in light of what has happened in the last few months.”

The court did not give the law deans and students what they asked for: a remote bar exam in September and the right to practice law permanently with a diploma but no test. Chemerinsky said he was not surprised the court refused to grant graduates a complete “diploma privilege.” California, unlike other states, has law schools that are unaccredited or accredited only by the state. Some of those schools have a bar exam pass rate of less than 10%, the dean said. ...

Some speculated that the results of the February bar exam may also have influenced the court.

In February, a time when many graduates who failed the bar the first time retake it, only 26.8% of all test takers passed. Of the first-time test takers from law schools accredited by the American Bar Assn., considered the top schools in the state, 51.7% of white graduates passed, compared with 5% of Black grads, 32.6% of Latinos and 42.2% of Asians.

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Quote: Of the first-time test takers from law schools accredited by the American Bar Assn., considered the top schools in the state, 51.7% of white graduates passed, compared with 5% of Black grads, 32.6% of Latinos and 42.2% of Asians.

When whites grads are about ten times more likely to pass the exam the first time as black grads, Asians eight times more likely, and Latinos six times more likely, the problem is not the test. Those passage rates are quite reasonable.

The problem lies with the black students. They are the outliers. The most likely explanation lies in the mismatch between the school and the black students they admit. They're no more suited for a top-tier law school than I'd be for a college football team.

And what is the real problem? It's the refusal of the law school administrators and faculty to admit that mismatch or as the subtitle of Mismatch puts it, "How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It."

In short. it's not the bar exam. It's the harmful delusions of these law school faculty. They admit people who stand no chance of learning in their particular teaching environment. Then four years later they express amazement that what is quite predictable actually happens and attempt to blame this test. It's not the test. It's the admission policies four years earlier.

Posted by: Mike Perry | Jul 28, 2020 4:47:29 PM

So why have tests and scores at all? Seems like the U.S. education system would produce much better outcomes without all that empiricial and quantitative rubbish. I mean, we'll probably zoom past every country on the planet with that approach...

Posted by: MM | Jul 29, 2020 7:01:07 PM