Oregon Supreme Court gooses bar exam, pass rate jumps by 36%

9/27/2017 with 10/4 update:

Normally about 260 people pass the July Oregon Bar exam. This spring the Oregon Supreme Court dumbed down the pass score and made some other changes, and 360 people passed. Obviously this is good news for the 100 students who otherwise wouldn’t be licensed to practice law, and good news for the Oregon Bar, which collects an annual $470 from each. It’s bad news for those 260 students who would have passed the older, harder exam, and who now have to try and find a job in an even more flooded job market.

Oregon’s pass rate for the July exam, (all takers, not just UO students) has jumped from 58% last year to 79% this year. That’s a 21 percentage point increase or a (79-58)/58=36% increase in the success odds, in one year. In July 2016 the average pass rate for all US takers was 62%, compared to 58% for Oregon. So we were a little low, but not by much.

In July 2016, only Nebraska had a higher percentage of takers (82%) passing than Oregon’s 2017 new rate of 79%. (Kansas and Missouri were tied at 79%, Oregon’s new rate). See http://www.ncbex.org/pdfviewer/?file=%2Fdmsdocument%2F205 So, with one decision made without adequate prior public notice or discussion, and apparently with no discussion in the Oregon Supreme Court, Oregon has gone from being middle of the road to being among the four easiest states in which to get a license to practice law.

This is not what the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners intended. According to internal documents obtained with a public records request, the BBX believed these changes would increase the pass rate to about 68%. They explicitly rejected a proposal from the three deans of Oregon’s law schools for an even lower cut-score, apparently because they thought that would produce a pass rate of 78%, which they thought was too high. I wonder if the deans will now argue for raising the cut-score and lowering the pass rate?

(From the April 19 letter from BBX chair Jeffrey Howes to Oregon Chief SC Justice Thomas Balmer, at http://uomatters.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Official-letters-to-Court-BBX-PubRcrdsReq-Aug-17.pdf)

In short Oregon’s new test, with the new lower cut-score, is much easier to pass than the old one, and much easier than the BBX led the Supreme Court to believe. It has given Oregon what is almost the highest pass rate in the country.

It’s true that the new exam will also make it easier for Oregon law students to move to other states, assuming their score was high enough to have passed those state’s cut-rate. But why is Oregon subsidizing the tuition of out-of-state students who will take out-of state legal jobs – if they can even find them?

For comparison, last July:

Michael Tobin has a brief report about this in the Daily Emerald, here.

10/4/2017 NOTE: I’ve now received two letters from the Oregon Bar, arguing that they did not break the public meetings law, while also promising that they will now post meeting notices on the bar’s website. As you can see from their October posting, they’re still trying to figure this transparency thing out:

I’ve got some more public records requests into them and the Oregon Supreme Court (which has updated its website and fixed some of its public records procedures in response to my previous questions to them) and I will post what I find out.

Posted 9/27/2017 and earlier:

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UO grade inflation continues, after reform efforts fail

Will Campbell has an excellent data driven story with the history of UO’s failed efforts to fight grade inflation in the Emerald here:

… In 2009, when [CAS Associate Dean Ian McNeely] became chair of the Undergraduate Council, the university-wide body that oversees undergraduate education, he became familiar with grade inflation.

He decided to look into the grading culture at UO. He talked to at least five committees around campus, met with deans and the UO president, held town hall meetings and eventually published a blog in May 2010 to create a wider conversation for UO faculty about grading trends.

McNeely used a UO report from 2006 of the university’s grade statistics as evidence for grade inflation. The report found that between 1992 and 2004, the percentage of A’s awarded went up by about 10 percentage points — 31.3 percent to 41.6 percent— and the percentage of A’s and B’s together went up by seven points — from 65.6 percent to 72.6 percent.

McNeely published a report the next month with three proposals to take action against inflation. The report states that McNeely proposed each department develop specific grading standards, or “collaborate and decide on their own general description on an A, B, C grade, and so on,” he said.

He and the undergraduate council also wanted each department to evaluate the grading habits of its professors. That way department leaders would be able to safeguard against inflation. McNeely’s third proposal suggested that students’ transcripts show what percentage of the class received the same grade. “So that would almost be an incentive for professors not to inflate grades because then it might look bad on a student’s transcript,” he said.

The first proposal passed in the senate, but McNeely said that not every department complied. The other two proposals failed on the senate floor.

Currently, McNeely is unaware of any administrative initiatives to combat grade inflation, he wrote in an email to the Emerald. …

There’s much more, read it all.

The Emerald also has an interface that lets you look at grades by course and instructor here. For example,  here’s one of the infamous AAD 250 Gen Ed classes that VP for Academic Affairs Doug Blandy set up:

Oregon researchers discover college with higher grades than Harvard

From today’s Harvard Crimson:

“I can answer the question, if you want me to.” (Dean) Harris said. “The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-. The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A.”

From UO Matters story, “VPAA Doug Blandy pulls off daring $1M credit hour heist”:

Everybody gets an A

8/23/2011: Apparently the average grade in upper level courses in UO’s College of Education is now 4.04. This generic problem at Ed schools is described and criticized in this paper (data shown is from Indiana):

This paper documents a startling difference in the grading standards between education departments and other academic departments at universities – undergraduate students in education classes receive significantly higher grades than students in all other classes. This phenomenon cannot be explained by differences in student quality or structural differences across departments (i.e., differences in class sizes). Drawing on evidence from the economics literature, the differences in grading standards between education and non-education departments imply that undergraduate education majors, the majority of whom become teachers, supply substantially less effort in college than non-education majors. If the grading standards in education departments were brought in line with those of other major academic departments, student effort would be expected to increase by at least 10-16 percent.

In my department the chair sends out an email every quarter showing how many A’s and B’s each professor gave out in each class, along with another email showing all the teaching evaluations. If you give out lots of A’s to get good evaluations you won’t fool anyone. Problem solved, except we still don’t give out enough D’s and F’s.