By Koran Addo
Capitol news bureau
October 16, 2012
The LSU Law Center has relinquished the top spot on state bar passage rates after nearly two decades of dominance, coming in second to Tulane University Law School based on the most recent exam administered in July.
The Loyola University College of Law ranked third, while the Southern Law Center took last place, according to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
While Tulane consistently ranks higher than LSU in law school rankings guides, LSU has just as consistently beat Tulane in the number of students passing the bar exam. The exam must be passed in order to practice law.
Whether coincidentally or not, LSU’s fall from the number one spot corresponds with the Louisiana Bar Examination’s new “compensatory scoring” system.
The system, approved by the Louisiana Supreme Court in October 2011, allows for a strong performance on one section of the exam to compensate for a low score on another portion of the test.
The scoring also will place extra weight on the five civil code-based tests within the nine-test exam.
Southern Law Center Chancellor Freddie Pitcher blamed his school’s poor performance on the new scoring system, which he said wasn’t properly vetted. Only 46.8 percent of Southern law students passed the exam.
Pitcher has advocated for the state to use a national model using more “objective” testing components like multiple-choice questions and more “performance” testing questions that measure how test-takers would respond as lawyers in certain legal scenarios.
LSU Law Center Chancellor Jack Weiss noted that the Paul M. Hebert Law Center’s 74.9 percent passage rate was less than one percentage point lower than Tulane’s 75.7 passage rate and significantly higher than the state’s overall 61.2 passage rate.
“Our rate is still very strong. This won’t materially change the game or our success,” Weiss said.
He added that it’s too early to tell what impact the new scoring system had on the results or if it introduced “scoring anomalies.”
“We really have not yet received the full complement of data to evaluate the test,” Weiss said. “Over a long period of time, we’ll have to examine the wisdom and effect of moving to the compensatory scoring system.”
At Tulane, there was more of a collective shrug as Ronald J. Scalise Jr., vice dean for academic affairs, pointed out that Tulane has held the top spot before — most recently in 2004.
Scalise said the state studied the issue at length before moving to the new system to assure there wouldn’t be dramatic fluctuations in pass and fail rates.
“Obviously we are very proud of our students for their individual efforts and the collective efforts of the school,” Scalise said. “I don’t believe the new system put us at any advantage or disadvantage.”
Louisiana and Washington are the only states that have all-essay exams. However, Washington is moving to a more standardized model in 2013 that incorporates multiple-choice questions and other aspects.
But Louisiana also is different in that it is the only state that relies largely on a civil law legal system based on the French and Spanish codes. Every other state is based on English common law.
The scoring changes that represent the largest Louisiana exam changes in decades were led by study committees set up in 2010 by the Louisiana Supreme Court and the Louisiana State Bar Association. Their stated goal is to bring more objectivity to the exam results of all-essay tests.
The changes were phased in beginning in February when the state bar exam no longer offered the “conditional failure option” that allowed people who failed the test, but came close to passing, the opportunity to retake certain portions of the exam.
Starting with the July testing date, the compensatory scoring system went into effect requiring a total score of 650, out of 900, to pass the exam. The initial proposal was for a 630 passing score, but it was eventually increased after officials from LSU and others protested the minimum passing score would be set too low.