Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Bar Exam Pass Rates and Academic Support

Maya Angelou wrote “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”  One of my favorite songs right now is Bleed the Same by Mandisa where she conveys a similar message.  I believe the message from both of them would apply to the current discussion surrounding factors impacting bar passage rates. 

Most of you are aware Rory Bahadur wrote a series of articles examining the relationship between certain factors and bar passage rates.  He specifically questions whether FIU’s emergence as the leader in Florida’s bar pass rate is significantly impacted by factors such as involuntary attrition, incoming transfers, and incoming credentials.  An oversimplification of his conclusion is that these factors have a major impact on Florida’s bar pass rankings.  His 3 articles are on SSRN here:

  1. Blinded by Science? A reexamination of the Bar Ninja and Silver Bullet Bar Program Cryptics
  2. Reexamining Relative Bar Performance as a Function of Non-Linearity, Heteroscedasticity, and a New Independent Variable
  3. Quantifying the Impact of Matriculant Credentials & Academic Attrition Rates on Bar Exam Success at Individual Schools

FIU’s academic support team, which includes one of our editors Louis Schulze, responded last weekend in a series of blog posts.  You can read the posts here:

  1. Does Academic Support Matter? A Brief, Preliminary Response to Blinded by Science and its Progeny
  2. Does Academic Support Matter? A Brief, Preliminary Response to Blinded by Science and its Progeny, Part 2

Louis’ response questions the statistical methods used in the previous articles and posits that FIU’s new Academic Support program made a statistically significant effect on bar passage rates.  Rory responded to the posts with a message on the ASP listsev/google group.  You should be able to access his message within that group. 

Rory and Louis are engaged in a relevant and important discussion for ASP.  I encourage everyone to read the articles and posts.  AccessLex also published a brief post addressing this topic and one of Rory’s articles.  The AccessLex authors state they are conducting  a couple projects that will provide even more insight.

The academic debate surrounding this topic is necessary, but we should also recognize the reason why the debate is important and sometimes personal.  While they disagree, both Rory and Louis are passionate about helping ASPers and students.  They both cite the lack of tenure for ASPers as a major concern.  They both argue for more resources for Academic Support.  Knowing them both, I truly believe they are trying to do what is best for both ASP and students.

As long as we are trying to figure out what helps students succeed, I do want this discussion to continue in an academic manner.  One of my major concerns is when schools/Deans evaluate whether ASPers are effective based primarily on bar pass rates.  Bar pass rates are an easy number to stamp on a department, almost treating bar pass numbers as wins and losses.  Media and other entities fuel that perception with articles about who had the highest bar pass rate in the state.  FIU’s success has brought national attention from the ABA journal and other legal news sources.  Deans around the country, especially ones in Florida, do specifically ask, “why isn’t [insert school] having the success of FIU?  Are our people doing their job correctly?”  Those outside ASP want to know, what is the secret sauce?

I also want the discussion to continue to demonstrate the impact ASP has on students.  Both Louis/Raul and Rory presented at regional and national ASP conferences about best practices in teaching.  Many of us agree that law school education and pedagogy needs improving.  Most of us agree that better teaching would improve student learning and that we should use scientifically proven methods to teach students.  We would also agree that improved student learning should have an impact on student success and bar performance.  I want to know what everyone else does, including Louis and Raul, to lead to improved student performance.  I especially want to read studies that quantify the impact of Academic Support and/or specific Academic Support programs.  Anecdotally, we know we have an impact on individual lives.  That impact matters, and should be measurable. 

Promoting ASP is important to the majority of us.  We need ongoing projects to measure what works and how we can all improve our students’ chances to pass the bar exam.  I know we are all striving to promote each other and help students.   I hope we can continue to do that.

(Steven Foster)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2021/10/bar-exam-pass-rates-and-academic-support.html

Academic Support Spotlight, Bar Exam Issues, Program Evaluation | Permalink

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