Bar Exam

Proposal to lower California bar exam cut score considered

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A proposal to set a new interim California bar exam cut score at 1414 from the current 1440 is being considered by the State Bar of California. The proposal is one possibility to come out of standard setting study (PDF) the state bar commissioned.

The study also proposes making no change to the current cut score, according to a state bar press release.

Traditionally, the cut score was set by the bar exam committee, but in July the California Supreme Court amended the rule, giving it the authority to set the passing score. In February, the court directed the state bar—an administrative arm of the judiciary—to do a series of comprehensive bar exam studies, including cut score review.

At a committee meeting on Monday in Los Angeles, several law school deans, including Gilbert Holmes of the University of La Verne College of Law, spoke in favor of lowering the cut score.

“People love to say they passed the bar the first time in California. It’s meaningful because it’s graded so hard,” Holmes said in a Courthouse News Service report. “But is that really important?”

Earlier this year, Holmes was among 20 California law school deans who wrote a letter (PDF) to the California high court, asking for a lower cut score, the Recorder (sub. req.) reported at the time.

After the public comments period closes Aug. 25, the Committee of Bar Examiners will make a cut score recommendation to the state bar’s Board of Trustees, which will submit a formal proposal to the California Supreme Court by Dec. 1. California bar results for July test-takers are traditionally released in November, according to the state bar press release.

Only 43 percent of the applicants who took the July 2016 California bar exam passed, according to the Associated Press. Also, only five of the state’s 21 ABA-accredited law schools had a pass rate of at least 75 percent, the Recorder (sub. req.) reported at the time.

The drop comes at a time when the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is considering a change to Standard 316 regarding bar exam pass rates. The most recent proposal, which the ABA’s House of Delegates voted against in February, would require that at least 75 percent of an accredited law school’s graduates pass a bar exam within a two-year period. The proposal was sent back to the section’s council for further consideration. Under ABA rules, the house can send a proposed rule back to the council twice for review, but the council has the final decision on matters related to law school accreditation.

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