Cal. Bar Results Plummet Along With the Rest of America

By William Peacock, Esq. on December 02, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You may have heard about the plummeting bar passage rates for the July 2014 examination. If not, you're not reading our Greedy Associates blog frequently enough. The gist is this: lowest passage rates in recent memory have led to finger-pointing between schools and the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The debate is over whether the test was scored or designed poorly, or whether the students were simply less able.

It's not surprising then to see that California's bar rate has also plummeted. According to the California Bar Journal, the passage rate was the lowest it has been in nearly 10 years -- a startling 48.6 percent. The drop comes on the heels of multiple consecutive years of a rising passage rate and is the lowest since July 2004, when 48.2 percent passed.

Bad Bar Numbers

No matter the measure, bar passage rates were depressing, according to the Journal:

  • 61 percent of 6,220 first-timers passed;
  • 14 percent of repeat test-takers passed;
  • 69 percent of first-timers from ABA-accredited California law schools passed, compared to 60 percent for out-of-state ABA schools;
  • 23 percent of repeat test-takers from ABA-accredited California law schools passed, compared to 14 percent for out-of-state ABA schools;
  • 31.4 percent of 417 lawyers passed the Attorneys' Examination
  • 1 of 13 disciplined lawyers who were required to take the AE passed.

Other statistics, including school-by-school breakdowns, are expected to be released in January.

Whether this is part of a trend, or a statistical aberration, depends on who is looking into the crystal ball.

As we noted previously, schools are pointing the fingers at the NCBE, demanding more transparency on the testing process. The NCBE claimed previously that this was simply a case of less qualified test-takers, a claim that finds some support in the wave of largest-ever class sizes caused by students fleeing the recessionary economy. (Bad call, kids.)

Last week, roughly 80 deans signed on to a letter asking the NCBE to "facilitate a thorough investigation of the administration and scoring of the July 2014 bar exam" and to share the results of the investigation with the law school deans and state bar examinees, reports The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog.

NCBE President Erica Moeser, who previously pointed to "less able" graduates as the culprit, said that while she took the issue seriously, the NCBE had double-checked the test data and found no issues.

Interestingly, starting this February, the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) -- the multiple-choice exam portion used in nearly all states, including California -- will add Civil Procedure to the mix. One wonders if the addition of an additional subject will cause further declines in bar passage rates.

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