Friday, January 10, 2020

2020 Academic Support Panel at AALS

The Section on Academic Support hosted a panel presentation on Friday, January 3, 2020 entitled Access to the Legal Profession as a Pillar of Democracy: Bar Exam Scores and the Future of Diversity at this year’s annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools.  The afternoon was expertly moderated by Melissa Hale of Loyola University Chicago, and the four invited speakers each offered a unique perspective on law student success.

Catherine “Cassie” Christopher of Texas Tech discussed her forthcoming article Normalizing Struggle.  Steven Foster previously highlighted her article in his July 5 blog post, and the great article deserves a second mention here.  Professor Christopher smartly observes that students who understand that struggling while learning is a normal part of the learning process are more likely to be successful in law school.  She then offers concrete suggestions on how students, faculty, and law schools can help students not only normalize the struggle process, bust also more expressly differentiate struggle from failure. 

Marsha Griggs of Washburn previewed her work-in-progress regarding law school student archetypes.  Borrowing from social science literature, Professor Griggs posits that underperforming students typically fall into one of a handful of archetypes—that is a category with common characteristics.  For example, “the student leader” may struggle because they have set unhelpfully low academic goals for themselves and few professors challenge these students to place a higher emphasis on their academics, incorrectly believing that because the student is so successful outside the classroom they will also naturally be successful in the classroom.  For more on Professor Grigg’s work-in-progress and her experience as a first-time presenter, read her related blog post here.

Jane Grise of Kentucky has been busy crunching bar passage data with surprising results.  She has observed that men consistently perform better on the MBE than women, and women perform better on the MEE/MPT that men.  When the multiple-choice and writing scores are combined, some studies in Texas and California have found that the pass rates cancel each other out so that the scores do not differ substantially.  An Ohio study did find that men passed at a higher rate than women. Professor Grise hopes to unravel the cause of the disparity in performance on the MBE and propose solutions to remedy the inequity. 

Joan Howarth of Nevada Las Vegas also sees inequity in bar exam scoring, especially regarding UBE cut scores.  She suggests that the UBE move to a uniform cut score of 260 (currently the lowest adopted cut score) arguing that there is no data to suggest the attorneys licensed with a passing score of 260 are less competent than attorneys licensed in jurisdictions with a higher cut score.  If a uniform cut score of 260 were adopted a disproportionately higher number of minority applicants would be eligible for admittance to the bar, as the higher cut scores adversely impact minority applicants at a higher rate than white applicants.

The four speakers attracted an impressively large crowd.  The 80-chair room was packed to capacity with additional folks electing to stand in the rear for the entire 1.5-hour (90 minute) presentation.  Notably, when the presentations ended and the room was restricted to Section Members only for the business meeting, approximately three-quarters of the attendees left the room, indicating that most of the attendees were not members of ASP community—a pleasant and welcomed surprise to the ASP section members!

At the conclusion of the panel presentation, section members held their official business meeting.  During the meeting, Jamie Kleppetsch of DePaul presented Laurie Zimet of UC Hastings with the Section Award, which is commonly viewed as the equivalent of a “lifetime achievement” award in the ASP community.  Melissa Hale’s related blog post has more details on the award and Professor Zimet’s accomplishments. 

(Kirsha Trychta, guest blogger)

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