Tuesday, December 6, 2011
I have argued several times on this blog that we need to change our teaching methods by adding miniskills, such as exercises on case synthesis, deductive reasoning, analogical reasoning, distinguishing cases, etc., to our everyday teaching. (I am not saying that some teachers do not use these techniques, just not enough of us.) Despite the Carnegie Report and Best Practices, there has been great resistance in the legal academy to change. The question is has enough evidence been presented to show that we really need to change our teaching methods?
A report by Dorothy Evensen, James Stratman, Laurel Oates, and Sarah Zappe, Developing an Assessment of First-Year Students' Critical Case Reading and Reasoning Abilities: Phase 2 (LSAC 2008) demonstrates that we are not doing a good job in teaching law students reading and reasoning skills. The authors describe their study as: "The research team in this project developed a prototype, multiple-choice test to assess case reading and reasoning among law students at two points during the first year. The project was motivated by the importance of cases in legal education, a paucity of empirical evidence concerning law students’ reading abilities, and a need for measurements that could be used to study pedagogical interventions and students’ skill development. A primary goal of the research project was to test the theoretical argument that law students have difficulty dealing with what are called the indeterminacies or discourse-specific ambiguities and vagueness of cases. "
"Statistical analyses produced results similar to the findings from Phase 1. No significant differences between first- and third-year scores were detected. The total mean scores for each test version were 8.3 for TV1 and 7.25 for TV2. Mean scores for students between semesters (two and three) or between years (first and third) were not significantly different, indicating that students’ case reading and reasoning skills do not improve as a result of law school instruction. Also, consistent with Phase 1 findings, the test showed a positive but low correlation with LSAT scores and law school grade point averages." (emphasis added)
To follow the nuances of this report, you will need to read it in detail, which I recommend that everyone who is interested in the future of legal education should do. In any case, it demonstrates that we cannot say that our traditional methods of law teaching are working, and we need to develop and use new methods to teach basic skills.
P.S. The article includes a bibliography of other articles on testing law school teaching.