As legal education has come under fire in the past few years, the American Bar Association (ABA) has taken steps to try to improve the state of the education students receive by implementing new standards and rules for law schools – specifically around the use and tracking of student learning outcomes and formative assessment. Below is an overview of what these new standards entail, what these changes mean for legal education, and how the changes can be implemented in a smooth and seamless manner.
What the New Standards for Assessment Are
The ABA report on the updated standards addresses assessment in Standards 314 and 315. Here’s what ABA has to say in the first entry:
Standard 314: Assessment of Student Learning
A law school shall utilize both formative and summative assessment methods in its curriculum to measure and improve student learning and provide meaningful feedback to students.
What does that mean? Here’s the breakdown:
Formative assessment = Regular assessments throughout the semester that enable faculty to provide students with useful feedback on their progress and ways they can improve. (This is the part you probably need to work on.)
Summative assessment = The assessments given at the end of a course to measure what a student has learned over the course of the full semester or year. (This is probably the part you already have down.)
Standard 314 speaks to the assessment responsibilities of faculty members. ABA has more to add regarding the administrative level of things:
Standard 315: Evaluation of Program of Legal Education, Learning Outcomes, and Assessment Methods
The dean and faculty of a law school shall conduct ongoing evaluation of the law school’s program of legal education, learning outcomes, and assessment methods; and shall use the results of this evaluation to determine the degree of student attainment of competency in the learning outcomes and to make appropriate changes to improve the curriculum.
In other words, in addition to regularly tracking progress at the course level, the ABA now expects schools to analyze the results at a higher level to make informed decisions about the larger curriculum.
What This Means for You
Even though you’re being forced into it through the accreditation standards, better assessment can lead to a net win for your law school. Measuring learning outcomes in a systemized way can lead to big improvements. And it doesn’t have to cost you. Over 80% of all law schools in the United States already have the tool they need to make it happen.
You just need to start thinking about using ExamSoft in a new way.
How to Do It
Step 1: Define the learning outcomes and criteria you want to measure.
If you’ve already done this one (and recently), you can check it off the list and move on. If not, everything else depends on this step, so take some time to really analyze what you want your school and students to achieve. In order to meet goals, you need to clearly define what those goals are. This will guide what the rest of the assessment process looks like.
Step 2: Get faculty on board.
This is often a challenge, but the fact that your accreditation status is at risk makes the stakes high enough that your professors will have to understand the importance of embracing assessment. They’re the ones in charge of carrying out the formative assessment on the ground, so their cooperation is crucial. If you can convince them of the results an assessment management solution can bring, the process of getting them on board becomes much easier.
Step 3: Work assessments into the curriculum and into lessons plans at regular intervals throughout the course.
This one’s mostly reliant on the faculty, which is why their cooperation is so important. For many law courses, this will mean a significant change. Instead of one big exam at the end of the semester, you need to start giving lots of tests and assignments that can measure student progress throughout the whole course.
Step 4: Tag all assessments according to the learning outcomes and goals you’ve defined.
This is another step that will fall on faculty to complete and is another reason why Step 1 is so important. Within ExamSoft, it’s a pretty simple process though.
Step 5: Track success as you go.
Once assessments are graded, ExamSoft automatically produces learning analytics. Other than the grading, no one has to do any work here (except for the product).
Step 6: Use that data!
Collecting the data isn’t worth much unless you take the time to use it. Faculty can analyze it on a regular basis to determine what kind of assistance their students need. Administrators can analyze it to better understand how well the school is meeting its larger learning objectives and to make informed decisions about what’s needed to get better results.
Step 7: Improve learning outcomes (and keep your accreditation).
Assessment data gives you a clearer look into how you can improve student learning at each step of the educational process. It empowers you to give students the tools they need to succeed. And as an added bonus, it keeps the accreditors happy.
If your school is in the 20% of law schools who aren’t using ExamSoft yet, let us show you what it can do.