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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Outcomes Based Assessment is Coming

Thanks for all the comments about evaluation of faculty teaching—and thank you to Professor Bainbridge for the transition to the next topic—Outcomes Assessment.   The days when we in legal education could say that the bar exam did outcomes assessment for us are rapidly coming to an end.   Outcomes assessment (or “output assessment as it is sometimes known) is something we in legal academe will  soon likely be required to do in every class, for every student.  Why?  Because our regional accrediting agencies already demand it and the ABA has already put forward for comments changes to Section 301 here reflecting this report by a 2008 subcommittee.

 If I’ve lost anyone here about regional accrediting agencies, now is a good time to lift the veil.   So long as we depend on our students using federal student loan programs to pay their tuition, we must meet the Department of Education’s standard that we provide a “quality” education.  And while the DOE does not tell us, or anyone else, what “quality” is, it can require that we submit ourselves to an entity it recognizes as being qualified to do so.  We all know that the ABA sets standards of quality for legal education, but unless you have a role in developing new programs, you may not be aware of your regional accreditor, but rest assured your Dean and Provost think about them all the time.  For example, Texas A & M University would not have been able to acquire Texas Wesleyan Law School without the approval of the Southern Association of Schools ad Colleges.  Here’s the TAMU Press Release and here’s the actual SACSCOC announcement.

 So back to Outcomes Assessment— it makes sense to evaluate law schools and faculties on their results rather than their efforts (we don’t raise the grades of students because they “tried hard”)  but like all assessment it can’t happen without first identifying what outcomes to measure and how to do it.    Is it mastery of material in individual courses?  Bar Passage? Employment in a J.D. required job?   Competency in practice?  Client satisfaction?  Personal satisfaction?  All of these are desirable outcomes for our law students, but the question legal education shares now with all higher education is which of them can be directly linked to what happens in law schools.

 Luckily for us as we make the transition to outcomes assessment, there is a wealth of reference material.  This piece from Prof. Gregory Munro reviews the topic of outcomes assessment at the level of the individual law school class.  Since we are relatively late to the outcomes assessment party there are a lot of models out there.  Here is a very interesting article by Profs. Deborah Maranville, Kate O’Neill, and Carolyn Plumb drawing lessons for legal education from Engineering’s experiences in assessing not just content outcomes but also ethical ones.  Here is an article by Carolyn Grose about her experiences integrating outcome measures into her Trusts and Estate class.

At a practical level, our friends at UCHastings have put together a very helpful compilation of resources, including sample syllabi, for law professors who want to create and then assess learning objectives in their classes.  The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning is a rich and frequently updated source of helpful material on all aspects of law teaching, very much including issues of outcomes assessment. 

This will be a big change for us both on the level of setting individual output/outcome goals for each of our classes and then on a larger scale for our schools as a whole.  But it’s a change that’s coming and for which we need to prepare ourselves.   I know that these links only scratch the surface of the work being done within legal academe to address the need for outcomes measures and I invite everyone to include material they either created or know about that will be helpful to the community at large.





Posted by Jennifer Bard on May 6, 2014 at 11:55 PM in Blogging, Current Affairs, Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


iIt's my understanding that the non-ABA accredited law schools in California have a version of this after the first or second year
Medical schools do this after two years
I very much support the idea (i went to graduate school at Oxford between college and law school so am very familiar with the system. They too do general exams after the first year) and will be writing about it more when I discuss the bar exam
Among other things, it only makes sense to test mastery of the first year subjects at the end of the first year and to use the exam as a threshold for eligibility to take the bar exam after graduation(as medical schools do). This wouldn't mean a student had to leave law school--that's up to the individual schools--or even that states would require the test

But it could turn the bar exam into more of a step by step process--with no need to redo a full multistate of first year subjects and room for more functional testing. One of the reasons the bar is so hard to study for is that it has been so long since the students have taken torts, contracts, etc
But more on that later

Posted by: Jennifer Bard | May 7, 2014 12:21:41 PM

A bit of a tangent but do any law schools follow the external examination model (a la Oxbridge)? It seems like it would work pretty well for 1L classes that have multiple sections in a given subject. It's one step beyond standardizing a curriculum in that if you don't teach the curriculum your students will do poorly on the exam, because you don't write or grade the exam (or at least you don't solely write and grade it). Given random student assignment and large-ish section sizes it should also provide a good opportunity for the type of outcomes assessment you are talking about.

While there's always a danger of teaching to the test, with a well written test that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Posted by: Brad | May 7, 2014 12:19:49 AM

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