SACRAMENTO—Democratic members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee asked the California Supreme Court on Thursday to temporarily reduce the required passing score on the state bar exam.
The Recorder - http://m.therecorder.com/#/article/1202780420807/Lawmakers-Ask-Calif-Chief-Justice-to-Cut-State-Bar-Exam-Score?mcode=1202617072607&curindex=2&_almReferrer=https:%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F
Nearly all the deans of California's ABA law schools have petitioned or appeared in front of legislature to plead for changes to the Bar Exam in California. According to the information presented in the webcast of the legislative hearing, the exam pass score hasn't been re-evaluated in about 30 years.
This lowering in the pass rate will be temporary to help lawmakers and the bar association collect data on how to move forward. There have been many views expressed on how to improve the bar and I have compiled some of the prevailing ideas as well as some of my own below:
1. Don't reinvent the wheel. There are many working certification processes for other industries. One strategy that could be borrowed is to allow passing of the written and MBE portions separately. Many applicants have passed the MBE and written portions on separate occasions but they're not attorneys today because they couldn't do it all at once. Another strategy could be to stagger the MBE and written portions throughout the year so the MBE would be Feb and July, and written will be in May and October. If students could dedicate their months of studying to one task they would be more likely to meet the high threshold without changing it. A more experimental idea is "bonuses" where students can earn bonuses for working in the legal field while they study or community service / etc. A minority internet presence suggests a small lowering of the individuals passing threshold if they are not able to pass within a certain number of attempts, but I disagree with this because it rewards failure.
2. Eliminate conflicts of Interest. A testable issue on the bar is "conflict of interest". Ironic, considering the conflict of interest that bar essay graders have, because they are lawyers themselves. Data presented by the bar associations experts showed a gradual rise and fall in passing scores every 4-6 years. Maybe instead of bar takers abilities, it's actually bad faith of grading that's cyclical. Why would any reasonable person want more people added to their profession? Students would suspect less foul play if they knew the graders were not attorneys, or at least retired/ non-practicing attorneys.
3. Sword / Shield - Let's assume that the bar's method of scaling, really does hold the difficulty level constant from exam to exam. The bar wants you to believe that it's the human element of student intellect causing the changes in pass percentage. They are happy to accept a mysterious change student intelligence as an explanation, so they should be equally open to other experimental theories. If it's totally feasible that students gradually get smarter or stupider over the years, than it's equally possible graders get more or less honest over the years. It's already irrefutable that they have a conflict of interest. If we can get dumber against our own interests then graders can certainly be less honest in favor of their own interests.
4. Transparency. There is nothing preventing a grader from failing an applicant for something arbitrary. "I don't like headings in italics" or "i'm in a hurry today" can be enough to award a 50 with no recourse for the student. I'm told that essays are accompanied by a grading rubric which decides the fate of bar essays. If the essays themselves are returned to students, why not return the rubrics as well? If this is too outrageous, how about an appeals process for errors in grading that students believe are egregious? One essay or PT per year can be appealed and if the grade doesn't change, the bar can provide up to 500 words of feedback on why the essay failed.
5. $$$$$. The bar exam sticker price is 830 dollars. Why would a business willingly turn away repeat customers? In July 2016, 5396 applicants took the bar, and 2998 passed. This means 2398 people need to re-take the exam, which amounts to 2 million dollars in additional revenue just from repeaters. This is unsettling for the less contemplated reason, that California takes 2-3 weeks longer than 49 states, DC and outlying provinces to get results back. 2 million from repeaters isn't enough to hire a few more graders? Such a small window to process the failure, regroup and begin studying again is a huge strain on repeaters, and it creates a convenient and ongoing revenue stream for the bar. Maybe it's time the bar was forced to increase its manpower and get tests returned correctly and faster.
The points above are a non-exhaustive list of problems and proposed solutions.
I'm very curious to hear everyone's take on the situation and I'm equally open to constructive counter arguments.