Archive for the ‘Student Learning’ Category

ABA Standards & Student Outcomes

Friday, May 21st, 2010

This via Tax Prof:

The Standards Review Committee of the ABA Section on Legal Education invites comments on proposed revisions to Chapter 3 of the Standards for Approval of Law Schools dealing with student learning outcomes.  Comments are due July 1 to Charlotte (Becky) Stretch.

Assessing Assessment

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Andrea A. Curcio (Georgia State) has a new article, Assessing Differently and Using Empirical Studies to see if it Makes a Difference:  Can Law Schools do it Better?, 27 QUINNIPIAC L. REV. 899 (2009) (SSRN).  Curcio argues that law schools–and law professors–need to start thinking not only about how we assess students, but also about how we assess our assessments:

This Article explores alternative law school assessment methods and suggests ways to engage in empirical study of alternative and existing assessments. In Part II, the Article provides some concrete suggestions for both incremental and larger changes to doctrinal class assessment practices with an eye toward developing assessments that begin to desegregate legal analysis, practical skills, and professional identity. What is not explored explicitly, but what is implicit throughout, is that, because professors should not assess what they do not teach, examining and changing assessment methods necessarily involves reflection about teaching methodology and coverage.

The Article then moves from a discussion of changing teaching and assessment practices to a discussion of studying the impact of those changes. Because empirical studies can be a persuasive tool in laying the groundwork necessary to develop institutional support for a change in assessment practices, Part III seeks to de-mystify the empirical study process. Written for those without a social science background, it briefly discusses basic issues in study design, methodology, implementation, and interpretation, providing an overview of how to develop and design an empirical research study. Part IV suggests some potential empirical research assessment studies that can be performed on both alternative and existing law school assessment methods. Finally, the Article concludes by arguing that if law professors give their teaching and assessment work the same scholarly scrutiny given to other research interests, they may discover ways to help students become more effective lawyers, lessen student disengagement and create the potential for a more diverse bench and bar.

Id. at 903.

To borrow from Curtis Mayfield, “[p]eople get ready, there’s a train a comin'”.  As Curcio suggests, we’re going to need more than faith.

posted by Gary Rosin

Part 5 the Legal Education at the Crossroads conference

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

The Big News from the Conference on Assessment:  Steve Bahls, Chair of the Student Learning Outcomes Subcommittee of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar’s Standards Review Committee, presented the draft of the new Standards on assessment.  From his presentation, it sounds as if some form of these Standards will be recommended by the ABA. 

Where do the new Standards take us?  First, the ABA, fortunately in my view, is not taking an extreme position.  The proposed Standards would require that all schools do some assessment of certain required competencies, such as “legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem solving, written and oral communication in a legal context.”  Beyond that, each school is required to identify additional learning outcomes based upon its own mission.  So, the ABA appears to be seeking to preserve a good degree of law school autonomy.

The real sea change comes, however, from the requirement that each school must “employ a variety of valid and reliable measures systematically and sequentially throughout the course of the students’ studies.”  Thus, a school simply will not be able to use a single summative final examination in the future, at least not in all its courses.  This is no doubt a good thing, but it will involve a huge change in how we teach.

Jeff Rensberger

Part 4 the Legal Education at the Crossroads conference

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

One key group missing from the Conference was Deans.  I would have loved to hear from some Deans on how they would implement broad-based assessment when they are the same time trying to manage budgets, get their faculty to write more, and improve their school’s US News ranking.  As to the latter, does one gain anything at all in US News rankings by having a state of the art assessment regime?  There is a huge issue of aligning what should be the prime goal of law schools–legal education–with other institutional imperatives, some of which, like US News, are imposed from without.

Jeff Rensberger

Part 3 the Legal Education at the Crossroads conference

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

So, the Big Question is how does one perform a meaningful assessment in a large doctrinal class of, say, 90 students?  One of the most cogent remarks of the Conference was David Thompson’s observation that for assessment to penetrate deeply into law school classrooms, it must be made “dumb easy.”  Methods that work in small group settings do not easily transform to a larger group unless a huge investment is to be made in additional teaching resources.

Long before the ABA’s interest in assessment, I wondered, like many doctrinal professors, what exactly is the reason I get away with giving only a single final exam for a course, with no quizzes and no mid-terms.  The answer I came up with, which I think is sound, is this:  Law schools and students strike a deal.  Students forego the more regularized feedback and  assessment present in most educational settings in exchange for getting a full professor and no teaching assistants.  One obvious way to make assessment work in a large doctrinal class is to farm it out to TAs.  But that breaks the bargain traditionally struck.  So, other than through TAs, how do we do assess in large classes?  If this is to occur, it is going to either change the historic bargain or involve the magic genies of technology.   And there are some cost and time-effective means of assessing through technology such as on-line quizzes and audience response software.  But nothing is free.  If there is a cheap way to assess, it is probably less effective as a means of assessment than a costly and time-consuming one.

Jeff Rensberger

More on the Legal Education at the Crossroads conference

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

The conference was weighted toward clinical and skills faculty in terms of the composition of the panels and the audience.  This is not meant as a criticism.  My take is that skills faculty have long been engaged in a richer and more meaningful assessment of students than have doctrinal faculty.  One way to characterize the increased emphasis on assessment in law school is that the clinicians (and the MacCrate and Carnegie reports) are ascendant.  So, it makes some sense that many presentations would give examples of assessment in a skills setting.  But if the mission is to change the practices of doctrinal faculty, more of them need to be at conferences like this and more of them need to be present to answer the Big Question, which is taken up in my next post.

Jeff Rensberger

Notes on the Legal Education at the Crossroads, v. 3.0 Conference

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Last week, I attended the Legal Education at the Crossroads conference at Denver University.  A useful conference, with a lot of demonstrations.

There was much more coverage of student assessment than institutional assessment.  That is, most of the sessions focused on ways to assess student performance other than through the standard one-shot end of semester final exam.  The classic law school model is an example of summative assessment with no formative assessment.  The conference provided a useful counterweight to that model by discussing options for formative assessment (i.e., assessment that occurs while the learning process is going on).

But the other half of the equation is assessing on an institution-wide basis what the individual student assessments tell you about the learning that is or is not going on.  There were sessions devoted to the topic of institutional assessment, but–at least the ones I attended–ended up with a student assessment focus.

Jeff Rensberger

Diversity Benefits of Best Practices

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Educating Lawyers:  Preparation for the Profession(Sullivan, et. al. 2007) and Best Pratices for Legal Education:  A Vision and a Road Map (Stuckey, et. al. 2007) both advocate major reforms of legal education.  In a new article, Leading Change in Legal Education – Educating Lawyers and Best Practices: Good News for Diversity, 31 Seattle L. Rev. 775 (2009) (SSRN), Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (New Mexico) argues that the reforms would particularly benefit minority students:

The books both contemplate a move from the current model of large classes taught through modified Socratic dialogue to a sequenced set of course and experiences that build on basic analytical skill and provide opportunities for real life and simulated practice experience.  Assessment would become more outcome-based with genuine opportunities for students to receive constructive feedback on their skill development as it evolves.  * * *  …[W]hile those changes would benefit all future lawyers …, the changes would be particularly welcome for students of color and members of groups which are under-represented in law school.

Id. at 776 (footnotes omitted).

Gary Rosin

Teaching and Law School

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Over on TaxProf, Paul Caron notes in What’s Wrong with Law Schoola comment by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky (UC-Irvine) that his professors at Harvard weren’t interested in their students.  Caron notes that the faculty at his son’s college voted down a proposal to reduce the teaching load, and wonders if has ever done that.

With the  talk about alternative outcomes and assessment measures, it will be interesting to watch what happens.  Will those be limited to clinics, or will all of the law professoriate have to start worrying about whether students are actually learning?

Gary Rosin

A Conference on Assessment

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

On September 11-13, 2009, the University of Denver will host a conference, Legal Education at the Crossroads, v. 3 – A Conference on Assessment:

This conference responds to the calls for better methods of student, teaching, and institutional assessment made in the Carnegie Report, Sullivan, et al., Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law(2007) and in Stuckey et al., Best Practices for Legal Education (2007). The conference will be particularly useful for law teachers and deans interested or engaged in developing and implementing outcomes measures.

Gary Rosin