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Leaders in Law 2017 Nominees: State Bar Submits Report on Bar Exam Passing Score to the California Supreme Court

The State Bar recently submitted its final report and analysis of the California Bar Exam passing score to the California Supreme Court. The first-ever such report in California is also one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the country.

“The magnitude and importance of California’s recent effort, and the accelerated timeframe in which it has been completed, are noteworthy,” State Bar Executive Director Leah Wilson said. “While the study provides the Court with a quantitative framework within which to make an informed policy decision, it also revealed a number of areas warranting additional research and analysis.”

The Final Report on the 2017 California Bar Exam Standard Setting Study was submitted in response to the Supreme Court’s request in February for a “thorough and expedited study.”

It offers three options for consideration by the Supreme Court, which holds the ultimate authority to set the passing score for the exam.

They are:

• An interim cut score of 1390

• An interim cut score of 1414

• No change in the current score of 1440 The report outlines three key issues related to the Court’s policy decision – public protection, access to justice and diversity – and notes that further research is needed in addition to a content validity study already underway. The report notes that there is no clear measure or definition for public protection in the context of a licensing exam.

More data are also needed on whether licensing more attorneys overall, or more ethnic and racial minority and female attorneys specifically, will result in increased access to legal services for those most in need.

“An exploration of the relationship between access to justice, diversity, and public protection would be timely and important,” Wilson said.

Under a new California Rule of Court, the State Bar will implement a review of the California Bar Exam every seven years.

“The State Bar has responded to the Court’s direction to support the development of an important study to determine the appropriate cut score. The process has been as thorough, diligent, and inclusive as possible, given tight time constraints,” said Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, previous Executive Director of the State Bar of California. Parker previously served for a decade as dean at University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law.

The Supreme Court of California had directed the State Bar to undertake a series of comprehensive studies of the California Bar Exam, including a review of the pass line (also commonly referred to as the cut score), and to present the studies and recommendations by Dec. 1, 2017. The Court holds the ultimate authority to set the pass line for the Bar Exam. The State Bar is a judicial branch agency and an administrative arm of the Court.

Under a new California Rule of Court, the State Bar will implement a review of the California Bar Exam every seven years.

The State Bar accelerated the study of the pass line in order to allow for the possibility of applying a potential new score to the July 2017 Bar Exam. Results of the July California Bar Exam are usually released in November. The July2017 exam was held July 25-26.

The California Supreme Court will ultimately determine what the pass line should be for the California Bar Exam and, if there is a change, when it should be applied.

“I’d like to thank the deans of law schools around the state who provided invaluable input,” Parker said. “We look forward to additional public comment going forward in order to help the State Bar develop a recommendation for an appropriate pass line that could potentially be submitted to the Supreme Court this fall. The State Bar remains committed to ensuring that all Californians have access to ethical and qualified attorneys to help them navigate legal matters.”

Learn more at calbar.ca.gov

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