Monday, July 5, 2010
At the LWI conference, Victoria Van Zandt presented on Assessment Planning in Legal Research and Writing Courses. As the ABA changes its law school accreditation standards to measure outputs, not just inputs, assessment has become a hot topic in legal education. Victoria explained how legal writing professors can help law schools with this shift in focus, since we have experience with regular assessments of our students’ work.
Victoria outlined a series of steps to assess student learning:
First, for each course, determine the learning outcomes that are your goals, including what students should know by the end of the course, what they should be able to do, and what they should value. For legal writing courses, the ABA Sourcebook and annual ALWD-LWI Survey are useful resources for completing this step.
Next, determine the performance criteria, including the competency level expected by the end of the course and how you are going to measure it. Since 1L legal writing courses are introductory in nature and the ABA expects students to graduate truly competent in a range of legal skills, a clear-eyed look at this step suggests upper level law school courses will need to reinforce students’ skills after the required 1L LRW courses.
Continuing on, gather the data that shows whether the students are meeting the learning goals initially set out. Multiple assessment tools, using both formative and summative assessments, are best. Here legal writing professors have a wealth of experience to share with other law school colleagues. Assessment tools should be reliable (scoring consistently), valid (actually assessing what you want it to), and fair (remaining anonymous or at least confidential).
Then analyze the data to see where students are not yet strong enough. It’s helpful if a colleague outside the course or even outside the law school looks at a sample of 1/4 of the class’s results, randomly chosen from among the top, middle, and bottom scores.
Finally, on both the course level and institutional level, close the loop. Make those pedagogical and curricular changes that will address identified problems or weaknesses in the students’ learning.
Look for the full write-up in the next issue of the Legal Writing Institute's Journal.