Monday, April 14, 2008
More on the MPRE Minimum Passing Score, How Do States Pick a Number?, and California Takers Just Dodged a '100' Bullet
Posted by Alan Childress
We had this guest-post last week, discussing the MPRE passing score and where certain scores fall on a distribution or curve. After, guest-poster and statboy Dr. John McSweeny wrote these follow-up thoughts (including some specific pass rates for certain MPRE scores):
I would have loved to be the fly on the wall when the discussions took place at various state bars about what cut points to use, especially given that there appears to be no validity data. That is, we don't really know what score, if any, predicts a career of ethical practice.
The discussions must have boiled down to how many students they were willing to pass (or flunk). A score of 85 passes roughly 75% of the takers, a score of 80 passes a little more than 85%, and a score of 75 passes about 90% of all takers.
What about those states that use odd figures like 79 or 86? Were these numbers the result of compromises made by a committee? Of course, there is no logical or mathematical reason for preferring a nice, round number like 85 instead of 86. They just seem more aesthetic if they are divisible by the number of fingers on one of our hands!
And can we really say that those at the top of a bell curve are really distinguishable and worthy of minute parsing which would result in huge impact on careers for similar-scoring people at the national median? That the average candidate is unworthy of becoming a lawyer? I can live with the arbitrary line-drawing at the left tail where the candidates have already missed a lot of questions, but I am uncomfortable with labeling an above-average kid who got a 99 as unethical while his friend making a 100 lucks out. (Especially if the difference is not in the raw numbers of questions missed, but rather in the scaling done after to correct for a historically 'easier' exam, by a hair.) Anyway, it seems inherently wrong to me to focus any crucial cut point at the top of a bell curve!
California did wind up -- its says here in this official notice dated Dec. 2005 -- raising its passing score to 86, effective Jan. 2008. Takers in the fall or earlier can pass with the old lowbar, 79. That now makes California at the highest end of state minima, compared to almost all states. (See this 2005 summary chart, state-by-state [though it still shows Cal as 79, and keep in mind that New York is now
UPDATE: See article on MPRE statistics from Dr. Susan Case, head of testing for NCBE, here.