How to Give Better Student Feedback to Law Students

August 10, 2016 Kristen Hicks

Assessment has always served two primary purposes: to let instructors know how students are performing, and to provide students with a measure of their progress so they know where they need to improve. That second purpose can’t be neglected.

Research shows that not only is student feedback important to enabling student success, but feedback that’s given in a timely manner is more useful than feedback that’s provided long after the fact. Students need to be able to see their progress (or lack thereof) in clear terms throughout their studies to figure out how far they still have to go.

While strong and frequent student feedback has always been something law students could benefit from, this year it becomes something law schools are required to provide. In an effort to hold law schools more accountable to their students, the ABA has updated its accreditation standards to ensure that law schools not only provide more frequent feedback to students, but also show evidence of doing so to accreditors.

Section 314 of the updated standards states:

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.

A move to more stringent accreditation standards is not something many schools would get excited about, but there is good news here. You probably already have exactly what you need to pull this one off; you just need to make a few changes to how you approach your assessments.

Switch to Embedded Assessment

First off, you have to start providing assessments more frequently. Students need to know regularly throughout the semester how they’re doing and which subject areas they need to improve in. The best way for you to provide them with that information is through embedded assessments that measure their progress continually, rather than depending on summative assessments that only tell them how they’re doing once a semester.

Provide Feedback throughout the Semester

If you provide all those assessments through ExamSoft, then you’ll have ready-made assessment reports that tell both students and you how they’re doing. Not only will the reports show whether students are doing OK or performing badly, the reports will also tell you which specific subjects and question types students are struggling with so you both know what they need to be working on.

You can tag your assessments so that they align with the subjects covered by the bar exam, so you’re even able to provide feedback that will help students’ chances on the test (which, as it happens, is another way to help you stay on the right side of ABA standards).

For those who are really having a hard time, those assessment reports will let you know to step in sooner rather than later and help students figure out why their studies haven’t been sinking in and what to do differently. They get the knowledge they need to direct their studies more efficiently and effectively, and you get the means to catch students who are falling before they ever hit the ground.

Better feedback can help improve bar pass rates and increase the likelihood of finding a good job after graduation, because it empowers your students to learn what they really need to know. Even if it weren’t required, it would be a good path to pursue. As tedious as accreditation standards can be, this is one that can really pay off for you and your students.



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