Friday, March 31, 2017

How are Law Schools Responding to the New Learning Outcome and Learning Outcome Assessment Requirements?

As you probably know, the ABA recently amended its standards to require law schools to adopt and assess learning outcomes.  There have recently been two conferences concerning these issues: “The Next Steps of a Professional Formation Social Movement,” at St. Thomas School of Law on February 16-18– symposium-21717.html and The University of Detroit-Mercy Law Review symposium, on March 2, 2017, which reviewed the impact of learning outcomes and assessment  Professor Benjamin Madison has summarized these conferences on the Best Practices blog.

A few excerpts:

"Having taken part in two recent symposia on learning outcomes (PLOs) in legal education, I was encouraged to see the number of law schools that are taking advantage of the recognized pedagogical benefits of adopting and assessing learning outcomes."

"I saw evidence at each symposium that schools are going beyond the mandatory PLOs and are shaping their learning outcomes for knowledge, skills, and values beyond the minimum. That phenomenon suggest schools recognize the pedagogical value of outcome-based education and are seeking to provide more than the minimum."

Concerning the St. Thomas conference, "One of the primary themes of the conference was that between thirty and forty law schools had adopted learning outcome that incorporated professional formation, consistent with the third apprenticeship advocated by the Carnegie Institute’s Educating Lawyers," even though the standards don't require this learning outcome.  "In short, the symposium demonstrated the steady increase of faculty and schools advocating for integration of professional identity formation into the legal curriculum."  [I hope that more law schools will do so because professional formation is critical to 21st-century lawyers.]

The Detroit-Mercy Law Review Conference "reviewed the impact of learning outcomes and assessment—both institutional assessment of the degree to which students attain the outcomes law schools state as objectives, and more creative assessment in law school classes in the form of both formative and multiple summative assessments." "The symposium highlighted again PLOs being adopted by a wide range of schools that exceed the minimum of ABA Standard 302."

Professor Madison concluded, "The message of such a response to the advent of learning outcomes in legal education seems to be clear: law schools are willing to use this proven method of ensuring educational quality to improve their programs, not just in the least possible way but in a manner that will help law students achieve the most from their time in school."  "Despite fears of widespread recalcitrance, a substantial number of law schools appear to be making a genuine effort to improve their programs."

When I learned of the ABA's new learning outcome requirements, I was hopeful that they would lead to significant improvement in legal education.  Looking at outcomes, rather than inputs, causes a radical change in how one views education.  I am happy to hear from Professor Madison that many law schools are using the new standards to improve the education they give to their students.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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