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Does Plummet in Bar Exam Scores Show Law Schools are Slipping?
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deans question july 2014 bar exam

Summary: After a steep drop in bar exam scores, many deans are questioning the test.

Are law school graduates getting dumber? A controversy is brewing after the July 2014 bar exam was returned with a significant drop of test scores, with sometimes more than 10 percent for various schools. The question is why this happened, with law school deans requesting a thorough review of the 2014 exam, while the institute that created part of the exam, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), claims it wasn’t the test that changed, but the students.


“We redoubled our efforts to satisfy ourselves that no error occurred in scoring the examination or in equating the test with its predecessors,” said longstanding president of the NCBE, Erica Moeser, as reported in Law Blog. “The results are correct. . . All point to the fact that the group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013.”

Deans such as Nicholas W. Allard of Brooklyn Law School felt insulted by this lackluster phrase “less able,” saying “We don’t know what evidence you have to support this surprising (and surprisingly disparaging) claim,” he wrote in a letter to Ms. Moeser, ignoring, apparently, the evidence that the test scores were significantly lower than the previous year, compelling evidence if any there is.

To this, Moeser rejoined that “less able” was a regrettable phrase, though, for the rest of us, it seems it is hard to imagine a more innocuous phrase than that, off the cuff.

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The reason deans feel threatened by the dip in scores, with the University of North Dakota Law School seeing a 13 percent-point drop in bar passage, and many others, such as schools in Texas, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington seeing a similar drop, is that it tells on the institutional degradation we might be seeing now that the demand for law school education is slipping and schools have made concessions by cutting faculty and by allowing less qualified students to enroll.

Nevertheless, these schools attached their name to a letter sent Tuesday that read, in part,

We, the undersigned law school deans, respectfully request that the National Conference of Bar Examiners facilitate a thorough investigation of the administration and scoring of the July 2014 bar exam. The methodology and results of the investigation should be made fully transparent to ail law school deans and state bar examiners.

In particular, the investigation should examine the integrity and fairness of the July 2014 exam as well as the overall reliability of the multistate components of the exam. We request that the NCBE provide all data in its possession on reliability or fairness of the July 2014 exam and all data necessary for independent expert review of the same.

Though the review did not reveal anything fishy about the test, rest assured deans will not be satisfied with that, or anything else, until their schools are exonerated. About 80 deans from middle-ranked and public institutions want an explanation that maintains the law schools have not slipped in their educational standards. They have not yet found the confirmation they are looking for.


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