Dean Allard Prepares to Formulate an Explanation Regarding Bar Passage Rates, One that Does Not Require Increasing Standards...
UPDATE: David Frakt just weighed in on Florida Coastal SOL, here, with similar conclusions.
Every so often, the debate comes up as to whether the bar exam is "too hard." The obvious concern being that being too strict will lower the number of lawyers available to engage the need for low-cost, effective services, and it has nothing at all to do with, say, the financial viability of law schools themselves. It was almost a year ago that we discussed that topic, and I'm sure it won't be the last time.
However, an interesting data point has occurred recently regarding Bar Exam results in North Carolina!
This year, the results of most recent North Carolina bar exam were not only obtained and published by state law schools humbling bragging about their graduates’ success rates, but they were also obtained and published by the Triangle Business Journal. The data has revealed that the state’s overall passage rate is the highest that it’s been in the past three years.
One has to ask what the change was! Better-qualified students? Practice-ready teaching? Anomalous statistics? Easier bar exams? The intersectionality of Law and Nietzschean Philosophy?
We now know that the July 2017 passage rate for first-time takers was 72.20 percent, while the overall passage rate was 61.75 percent. In July 2016, the average pass rate for first-time takers was 65.9 percent, which means there was a whopping 6.3 percentage point increase this year for first-time takers. In July 2017, the passage rate for first-time takers from North Carolina law schools was 73.80 percent, while the same rate July 2016 was 66.82 percent. For that in-state measure, we’re looking at an increased passage rate of 6.98 percentage points. What could have happened to cause such a huge uptick in first-time passers? The mass departure of students from Charlotte Law prior to the school’s closure, that’s what.
Whoops. When looking at LST's data as well as what Zaretsky has summarized, you see a downward trend in state-wide bar passage rates from 2011 to 2016. The incoming LSAT scores and GPAs were slowly eroding from year to year. So, overall, for Charlotte School of Law, (1) credentials decreased, and (2) bar passage rates decreased as a general trend. Entering 1L classes from 2011 to 2013 (who would be taking the 2014 to 2016 bar exams, approximately) were between 500 and 600 students, before you start seeing a steep decline in enrollment to the 300s in 2015 and 2016.
While many will say "correlation is not causation" and all that, it is an interesting trend nonetheless. One has to ask, then, why these measures seem to track each other, and a major event (school closure) coincidentally coincides with the "anomalous" result of improved state-wide bar passage rate overall in 2017.
Zaretsky answers the question for us:
Law schools, law students, and prospective law students across the country ought to take notice of the cause and effect of what happens to bar exam results when students with less-than-stellar admissions criteria [as well as their relative absence, Ed.] sit for the exam. The solution to this problem isn’t decreasing the bar exam cut rate to increase the number of those who are able to pass the test. The solution is to increase admissions standards and/or specialized tutoring for those who will be able to pass the test in the first place.
Well said, Staci, well said. It will be interesting to see what the statistical argument from the Cartel will be in response to this, as to why the seemingly obvious is not so seemingly obvious.