Tuesday, July 6, 2010
There’s been a lot of discussion on the legal writing professors’ listserve about writing diagnostic tests for newly admitted law students. For a variety of reasons, the basic writing skills of arriving 1Ls have been on a long and steady decline.
Last week at the Legal Writing Institute conference, writing specialist Jeremy Francis and legal writing professor Daphne O’Regan gave an intriguing presentation about their use of writing diagnostic tests. At their law school, Michigan State University, students have to pass a writing proficiency test during the 1L year, to pass their LRW course. Three proprietary writing proficiency tests are administered at various times during the first year. Workshops and tutoring are available to help students work on problems the tests identify for them.
Daphne and Jeremy have collected a lot of data related to these diagnostic tests and their students’ performance. They do plan to publish the results. For now, two of their preliminary findings really stood out:
1) Students who, even after workshops and tutoring, were unable to understand parallelisms (using parallel structure in sentences where needed) struggled the most with legal analysis generally. This correlation suggests those students have a general problem with conceptualizing abstract structures.
2) Students who, even after workshops and tutoring, were unable to identify sentence fragments did not succeed in law school. Just last year I declared that I had a new bottom line for grading: my students have to write in sentences. Seems my intution there was right.