Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A Blueprint For Using Assessments To Achieve Learning Outcomes And Improve Law Students’ Learning

Rogelio A. Lasso (UIC-John Marshall), A Blueprint for Using Assessments to Achieve Learning Outcomes and Improve Students’ Learning, 12 Elon L. Rev. 1 (2020):

For over a decade, there has been agreement among legal educators that assessments are a critical tool to improve students’ learning. We are beginning to understand that the types of assessments we use have the greatest influence on how and what students learn. As a result of recent ABA accreditation requirements, there is now a scramble in law schools to adopt assessments that improve students’ learning and bar passage rates as to satisfy these new requirements. Nevertheless, there remains no clear methodology to assist doctrinal faculty in creating an effective assessment program. After twenty-seven years of developing assessment programs that have improved students’ learning and bar passage rates, this article is an attempt to provide faculty and administrators a blueprint for incorporating an effective assessment program.

Law schools owe a duty to every student to provide them with the learning tools needed to perform well in class, on the bar, and in practice. The overwhelming consensus is that multiple assessments with feedback are the best tools to improve our student learning. Law school professors should provide students with multiple assessments in all classes.

Not all assessments are created equal and some assessments are more effective than others. Although an increasing number of faculty are providing some formative assessments in their classes, in most cases, faculty still only provide general feedback to the entire class. Assessments with general feedback, however, are not effective to improve most students’ learning skills. For assessments to be effective, they should relate to the learning outcomes we establish for our courses, and they should be designed not only to improve student performance in our class but also to help students transfer the knowledge and skills they acquire in one course to other courses, to the bar, and to their practice as lawyers. Formative assessments that provide written feedback to students individually are more effective than assessments that provide only general feedback to the class as a whole, and formative assessments with individual written and oral feedback are better yet. Cognitive science and my own observations demonstrate that the most effective assessments are graded assessments that include individual written and oral feedback. This is particularly effective to help low performing students develop the analytical and self-learning skills needed to perform well in law school, on the bar, and in practice.

Finally, it is clear that creating an effective assessment program cannot be done solely by the faculty, the ASO, or the administration. Each department has a role to play and the effective assessment programs require the administration, faculty, and Academic Success professionals to work together to optimize students’ learning.

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