After the July 2014 bar exam debacle, many looked to this year to determine if last year’s lower bar passage rates were a strange anomaly or pointed towards “less capable” lawyers. If you don’t remember, the passage rates were so low compared to 2013 results that Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference for Board Examiners (the nonprofit that runs the exam), wrote a condemning letter to law school deans across the country. Many, of course, fired back with their own letter.
But numbers don’t lie. Only nine states either broke even or increased bar passage rates from 2013 to 2014. The rest dropped, with Montana dropping the most at more than 20 percentage points. There was also a strange software glitch, causing students to have troubles uploading a section of the exam, but many didn’t believe such issue would cause that large of a decrease.
And so now a year later, as the first of the bar results trickle in, what can we glean? Pepperdine Law professor Derek Muller, was one of the first to break the news last year on the outlandish passage rate decrease. This year, on his Excess of Democracy blog, he has compiled the earliest results and they point to a continued trend of lower passage rates.
“But looking at the NCBE statistics from last year, we can see another overall decline in scores almost across the board,” he writes. “And even in places where there was an uptick in pass rates—which, perhaps, suggest that things are not as dire as they appeared last year, where—they remain low compared to recent history.”
Iowa and North Dakota are prime examples of this. In 2010, Iowa’s passage rate was 89%. In 2013, it reached the highest passage rate in the past six years at 92%. Last year it fell to 81%. This year Iowa gained five points to 86%, but remains lower than all of the past six years (besides 2014). Same goes for North Dakota, which gained six points from 63% to 69%, but still remains incredibly low compared to the 76% to 81% the school hovered around from 2010 to 2013.
But out of the nine states to so far be reporting results, Iowa and North Dakota were the only ones that saw an increase in passage rates. The other states to report are: Kansas (-3 points), New Mexico (-12 points), North Carolina (-4 points), Oklahoma (-11 points), Washington, (-1 points), West Virginia (-5 points), and Wisconsin (-10) points. It should be noted Wisconsin is a “locals clause” in which students graduating from an in-state law school do not have to sit for the bar to gain their bar license.
Obviously, many states still have to report. And besides North Carolina, the reporting states did not break out the first-time test takers. But since seven of nine states reported lower scores, the odds of a nationwide uptick do not look promising.
Source: Excess of Democracy
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