Perplexing decline in U.S. bar exam results in search for blame

A steep decline in bar exam scores on the most recent test has led to an outbreak of finger-pointing over who’s to blame for the downward swing.

In a sharply worded letter, the dean of Brooklyn Law School on Monday reproached the head of a national bar exam group for suggesting to law school leaders that their graduates who took the July exam were less prepared than students who sat for the test in previous years.

The dean’s letter came in response to an October memo by Erica Moeser, the president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, addressed to law school deans across the country in which she defended the integrity of the group’s exam and raised concerns about the ability of the would-be lawyers who took it.

The NCBE is a national Wisconsin-based non-profit that prepares widely used standardized portions of the bar exam, including the Multistate Bar Examination, a multiple choice test that typically counts for half of a test-taker’s score.

All but three of the state’s 15 law schools have reported a decline in pass rates for first-time candidates who took the July bar exam, a result that has disappointed, puzzled and angered school officials.
The 3,740 first-time testtakers from New York’s law schools posted an 83 percent pass rate, down five points from last year.
See the Chart: July 2014 Bar Exam Pass Rates
The decline comes at a time when most schools have revamped their bar preparation programs, requiring more students than ever to enroll in test-taking skills courses and hosting free bar review weekends on campus.
In fact, they insisted the class of 2014 was better prepared for the test than any graduating class before it. Several expressed concerns that this year’s downward swing went well beyond expected year-to-year fluctuations.

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