Paul L. Caron

Thursday, October 22, 2020

A Five-Year Retroactive Analysis Of Cut Score Impact: California’s Proposed Supervised Provisional License Program

Following up on last week's post, California's Bar Exam Cut Score: Minimum Competency, Public Protection, Disparate Impact, And National Standards:

Karen Sloan (, Study: Lower Bar Exam Cut Score Won't Solve California's Attorney Diversity Problem:

California Bar ExamCalifornia’s newly lowered bar exam cut score won’t do much to bolster pass rates among minority test-takers.

An extensive new study finds that the California Supreme Court’s July decision to lower the cut score from 1440 to 1390 will reduce the disparity in pass rates between white and minority bar takers a mere 2.7 percentage points. A reduction to 1350—which is the national average—would go much further in narrowing that achievement gap, reducing it by 19.4 percentage points. ... The study confirms long-held suspicions that California’s historically high cut score has had a disparate impact on minority law graduates and impeded the flow of diverse attorneys into the state’s bar. California’s population is 60% minority, yet 68% of the state’s licensed attorneys are white.

Mitchel Winick (Dean, Monterey), Victor D. Quintanilla (Indiana), Sam Erman (USC), Christina Chong-Nakatsuchi (Monterey) & Michael Frisby (Michigan), A Five-Year Retroactive Analysis of Cut Score Impact: California’s Proposed Supervised Provisional License Program:

A five-year cohort of 39,737 examinees who sat for the California Bar Exam (“CBX”) between 2014-18 was analyzed using a simulation model based on actual exam results to evaluate how the minimum passing scores (“cut score”) of 1440, 1390, 1350, 1330, and 1300, if used as qualifying scores for a provisional licensing program, would affect the number of previous examinees, by race and ethnicity, who would qualify to participate within retroactive groupings of five-year, four-year, three-year, two-year, and one-year examinee cohorts.

The result of the simulation models indicated that selecting a qualifying score lower than the current California cut score of 1390 will significantly increase both the overall number of eligible participants and the diversity of the group eligible to participate in the proposed alternate licensing program.

Chart 3

This study follows an initial study of 85,727 examinees of the CBX from 2009-18 titled, Examining the California Cut Score: An Empirical Analysis of Minimum Competency, Public Protection, Disparate Impact, and National Standards that determined maintaining a high cut score does not result in greater public protection as measured by disciplinary statistics, but does result in excluding minorities from admission to the bar and the practice of law at rates disproportionately higher than Whites.

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