Bar Examinations and High-Stakes Assessments

Title

Unpacking the Bar: Of Cut Scores, Competence and Crucibles

Document Type

Law Review Article

Publication Date

1-2008

Keywords

bar examination, bar exam cut scores, bar passage, test scaling

Abstract

Bar passage rates of first-takers vary widely among both the states and the law schools. State grading practices also vary widely, particularly as to minimum passing scores ("cut scores") and whether they scale state exam components to the MultiState Bar Exam ("MBE"). The broad ranges of Bar passage rates and of state grading practices call into question the stewardship of the states over admission to the practice of law. This study uses generalized linear modeling, with a logit link function, to isolate the effect on the Bar passage rates of ABA-approved law schools of three factors: (i) the LSAT scores of entering classes, (ii) state cut scores; and (iii) scaling to the MBE. LSAT scores of a law school's entering classes were the most significant factor in determining a law school's Bar passage rate. But differences in state cut scores, and in MBE scaling, are associated with large differences in the Bar passage rates of law schools with equivalent LSAT scores. This suggests that the states need to work together with a view to reaching a national consensus as to the elements of minimum competence, and how best to measure them.

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