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January 25, 2010

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Anon

Isn't the obvious output measure the Bar Exam? Most schools have curriculum oriented toward success on the bar. Plus, this would give bite to those who seek to close down schools that regularly graduate large numbers of students unable to pass the bar and practice law.

anon

Love the "No Child Left Behind" and what it has done to primary education? Well, lets replicate it! Again and agin. We can just teach to the test, from grade 1 to the end of grad school.

Brian B

As a former middle school teacher, I can attest that general criticism of No Child Left Behind is misguided. NCLB is flawed, but it exposed major problems in American education by holding schools accountable for the first time. As a teacher who "taught to the test" and got my students some of the highest test scores in their school, I would bet everything I own that those students were, in the aggregate, far more prepared than their underperforming peers. Teaching to the test is only bad if the test is bad. So make the test good.

The moral of the story is that while outcome-based standards can be a great thing, accreditation organizations are playing with fire. It is vital that the standards they set be relevant and assessed well. Otherwise they can do more harm than good.

anon

If we are going to measure law school success by output measures, I certainly hope that we can come up with something better than the bar exam. That is, unless we foresee a return to the 19th century solo lawyer practice that the law exam was set up for.

I think it provides a measure of the disconnect between modern practice and the legal academy that anyone could seriously suggest the bar exam as an appropriate output measure for a school that aims to prepare students for practice in today's - and tomorrow's - world.

Chris

I'm a legal writing faculty member, but if this proposal is an attempt to bring standardized testing into legal education, I think it's a terrible mistake. In my view, faith in assessment-driven education has dumbed down K-12 education considerably, and is likely to do the same for legal education.

In the name of raising test scores, my kids' school has practically transformed itself into an obedience school. Ask any kid: the "good" student is the one who is quiet and follows instructions. The overemphasis on obedience necessarily undermines any emphasis on inquiry and independent thought. Maybe the math scores will go up -- but at what cost?

I don't know of any legal writing teacher -- or any law professor -- who sees our mission as one of producing "right answers." We all know that merely passing the bar does not make one a competent lawyer. If raising scores on some bubble test becomes our primary goal, our mission will be immeasurably diminished. (Yes, not everything can be measured.)

If, by "assessment," this proposal means something other than standardized testing, then aren't we doing it already? Giving grades on exams and papers is far from a perfect assessment system, but at least it leaves the door open for a professor's effort to judge the less quantifiable aspects of learning. Any system that tries to remove the role of that type of judgment will not be meaningfully valid, no matter how reliable it might be.

John Steele

The movement seems to be a “top-down,” bureaucratic initiative to solve a perceived problem at the local levels. I’d guess that the initiative will be clumsy and frustrating, even if the supporters have noble intentions.

Just as a thought experiment, what would happen if students were given far great say in shaping curriculum? What would happen if legal employers, judges, alums, deans, professors, and adjuncts gave advice to students about what kinds of courses they might take, and then the students’ aggregate choices drove the course loads?

I presume that at schools like Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, the curriculum wouldn’t change much. (But I could be wrong.) I also assume that in the night schools and “working class” schools, the curriculum wouldn’t change that much either. (Again, I could be wrong.) In a broad range of schools that are emulating the Y-H-S model, I assume that the curriculum would change substantially.

Even if no school is willing to carry out the experiment, wouldn’t it be interesting to use an internet poll to ask the students of some schools, “If you had a free hand to take whatever courses you wished over the next two semesters, without any limitations of enrollment limitations and regardless of what courses your school actually offers, what courses would you take?” Do law schools even have a good idea of what the response would be? That is, do law schools know what students want?

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