The Vermont Supreme Court has officially posted their results, and it isn’t good.
Of the 40 people who took the exam, only 19 passed it.
That’s less than half! (47.5% to be exact)
This is a sharp different from 2013 and 2014, and it offers further proof that there is a significant downward trend in numbers.
Over the last 2 years, here are the February and July passage rates:
- February 2013 – 83%
- July 2013 – 72%
- February 2014 – 68%
- July 2014 – 66%
- February 2015 – 47.5%
That is a stunning drop of 21% from 2014 and 36% from 2013. And if the spread remains the same for July, it will be even less than 47% (each year since 2013, July has been lower than February).
And the other states statistics are looking bad as well. Of all the states reporting right now, only Louisiana shows a hike in numbers. Everyone else has fallen, and some like Ohio and Vermont have fallen pretty far.
It’s hard to imagine how such a serious fall could be purely student related. I find it hard to believe that there isn’t something else going on behind the scenes. The evidence suggests the test is getting harder, and that’s not good.
It begs the question of what responsibilities the Bar Examiners owe to the students. What duty do they have to share important information (such as a stricter exam) with students and how early?
Bar Examiners aren’t acknowledging it, but the fact is, many students use bar passage rates as a significant factor when choosing law schools and future homes. For example, California is notoriously difficult, so unless you really, really love California, we tend to avoid it. And as for choosing law schools, it’s like any other college decision – you generally find that the better schools have the better passage rates in their state.
So the problem is three fold.
- We use the passage rates to influence which state we choose.
- We use which state we choose to influence which college we choose.
- We use the passage rates to influence which school we choose.
Altogether, it feels a little like we were lied to when things like the current fall happen. They give out these statistics, and they stay pretty stable year in and year out, so you start to rely on it. You make important, hundred of thousands of dollars decisions based on those statistics. You plan your life based in no small part on the belief that you have a chance, because you’ve seen the statistics.
And then the fall comes. People start failing in unexpected numbers, and it starts looking more and more like the schools and examiners have screwed you over with the statistics.
How soon should they have to tell you that the exam is about to get harder?
1 year? – before you pay for the bar?
2 years? – before you start studying and when you are making plans for which state you choose?
3 years? – Before you choose the law school, before you’ve made life-changing decisions?
Personally, I’m going to say 3 years. We should be given a three-year heads up before the examiners make any decisions about making the exam harder. We rely on the past statistics, and it’s completely reasonable that we do so. We make huge life- and monetary- decision based on those statistics; it’s a really big thing. You can’t just change things without given us ample warning and time to work around those changes.
There is a clear problem in the world of ESL teaching (both language and content), and it comes primarily from the side of the ESL teachers. I would almost say it is a unique type of racism that is beginning to show. And it is concerning me on behalf of the students.
The Problem ~ ESL teachers tend to believe that any student who cannot communicate the idea in English cannot understand the idea itself.
While it is certainly true that there are students we teach who are intellectually challenged (primarily because they are 18-20 and really care more about Basketball or Dance right now), it would be well for ESL teachers to remember that they are often teaching some of the most intelligent and educated students in the country. Students in ESL programs are rarely ever stupid ~ different, and perhaps driven to less academic pursuits perhaps ~ but not stupid.
And it is time we stopped planning our lessons around this concept.
Just look at most ESL websites ~ we are taught to teach students at a very low intellectual level. It’s all fun and games ~ very little actual intellectual-level learning. And they are carrying this pattern over into content-based classes. Students tasked with learning about deep content (Macroeconomics) are being taught very simple “here’s how business people say ‘hello!'” lessons. It drives me crazy.
There is a belief among the ESL teachers that Asian students are incapable of doing Critical Thinking. That they are taught only to memorize and can do no more. 0_0 How condescending can you get?
I have watched my students soar into the world of Critical Thinking, marching through complex questions and speaking for hours about their ideas of applied philosophy to Economics, Art, Culture, Science, and the World. I was given the class “Business Ethics” and then told by other teachers that the students would never understand the concept ~ it was “above their comprehension level.” By the end of my class, they all managed a 30 minute conversation where they not only explained complex Ethical theories, but applied them to current problems that they felt were important. I didn’t chose the ideas for them, they took the knowledge and ran with it on their own.
I once had a student that other teachers warned me about because they were “slow” and “just couldn’t understand.” Admittedly they made poor grades at first (I wasn’t grading those assignments, another teacher was). But then they came to me in tears about why they were graded so low when they had spent “5 days without leaving the dorm just to do this.” After looking over the paper, I was blown away. They were using resources, quoting law books, bringing in the national Constitution. They were using appropriately huge words like “Deconstruction” and “Rehabilitation.” They could explain their paper to me, and it was way beyond even many US student’s levels. The only problem? A small issue of not knowing how to use the small connecting words of “for, an, to. . . ” That’s all. Together we sat down, and I explained those words to them. Their next paper, they got a 100 and were applauded by the senior teacher. It had never been a lack of comprehension ~ merely a difficulty in explaining it to others that was the problem.
And this has happened over and over in schools all across Asia.
There is an instinctive racism that happens to westerners when they confront people who don’t speak native English. It’s like if a person can’t speak English, they must be stupider or less competent than us. We do it without thinking, without realizing. High-level communication is difficult so we think they must not be able to comprehend the ideas themselves. But this is fundamentally flawed.
Stop treating the students like idiots and teach to their level. If they don’t understand you the first time, try again. And Again, and again. Because they are fully capable of understanding the ideas. It is simply your communication of the ideas that leaves something to be desired.
The students are smart ~ be respectful and remember your own college language days. How good are you at that college French still?
Luoyang Peony Festival!
Follow up on part one of my Luoyang visit! You can see my post about the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, another beautiful site to see in the area :)
Did you know that for a long time the Peony was actually China’s official national flower? And it started right here in Luoyang, where the Peony was the flower of kings and noblemen. Now, there are many types of Peonies grown in the gardens of Luoyang, and those gardens are opened up to visitors during the annual Peony Festival!
Every year from the middle of April until the middle of May, the Peonies bloom and visitors from around the world come to check them out. The festival itself is during the peak time, usually April 15-25, when the flowers are at their most stunning.
There are many, many Peony gardens you can see, for example the Luoyang National Peony Garden (it was too busy so our tour bus couldn’t reach it; we checked out another garden) is said to be the very best. But there are many others you can see, like the one we visited. It was much smaller, but still breathtaking! You can check out China Highlight’s post for a list of options and prices!
You can reach Luoyang via Train (approximately 4 hours from Beijing and 8 hours from Shanghai) or by Flight, and the price to the gardens isn’t too bad. There are lots of hotels and restaurants to check out, and many other sightseeing activities for your family :)
Took a little trip to the Luòyáng , China this past weekend as part of a culture trip hosted by the University!
Pronounced something like “loi yahng,” this beautiful home to the National Peony Festival (I’ll add an update on the Peony Garden later) is one of the “cradles of Chinese Civiliazation” and one of the ancient capital cities of China (Henan has 2 of them! – Luoyang and Xinzheng). The city itself is amazingly clean and open, the streets are unlittered and it’s pretty modern.
The best part of my visit by far though was the Longmen Grottoes and the Peony Garden. This week was part of the 2 week festival they have each year for the Peony festival, so people were everywhere despite the rain.
The Longmen Grottoes themselves are absolutely mind-blowing ~ an amazing feat of human design and capability. To imagine that such intricate design, specific carvings, and gentle touch art were feasible so many centuries ago is one of those things that always stops me in my tracks. I know a lot of people aren’t as interested as I in history and stone statues (several of the teachers I was with were fairly denigrating about spending so much time in a “Stone Garden). But to me, standing on the same ground, touching the rocks they touched, seeing the art they created, glimpsing pieces of hearts long past. It’s simply miraculous.
The Grottoes are home to thousands and thousands of carvings on the stone faces of the mountain cliffs. Most are of Buddha or his followers, some are pagodas, buildings, and other designs. The varying stone colors used to frame and decorate the statues, each one different from the rest. Carved over a period of centuries (5th – 15th Century AD), each set was designed by a different artist, many from completely different times. You can trace the changes, both in religion and philosophy (skinny to fat Buddhas for example) and in art styles.
One of the other reasons the grottoes is so stunning is the River Yi (pron. ee) that runs alongside the valley in front of the rocks. The river is clean and beautiful, sweeping along a lovely walkway as antique-style dragon boats float up and down. Stone bridges line the view, criss-crossing over to the other side that offers views of antique buildings lining the mountain paths.
It’s just a beautiful way to spend a day
It appears that the rumors may be true – the possibility of passing your state bar exam is getting more difficult.
In 2013, I was one of the thousands of bar-takers crossing my fingers and praying for that lucky answer on the test that would push me into the much-needed title of “Current Lawyer.” With increasing debt (13% interest rate on my $250,000 in loans), the desperate need for experience (most employers want 2 years of experience or more before paying you), and a desperation to escape the hell that was bar study, it seemed like everything was resting on this score.
Law is one of those dreadful career choices, like medicine, that pretty much requires that you pass the exam if you want to work in the field. If you can’t pass the test, you can’t get the job.
By the time you take the bar exam, you are wiped out. Done in, done for, done to – there is simply nothing left inside of you to give. The exam is the pinnacle of 3 years of never-ending stress and agony. Your relationships won’t handle much more strain or lost time. Your finances are collapsing (the exam itself costs as much as $5,000) and you literally have pennies in the bank. Your job options are somewhat bleak with a good score; without it, you suddenly worry that you will never work in law again. And perhaps the worst, your brain and soul simply is done. I remember leaving the test and watching several people around me basically crying from just the weariness that hits you. For four years, your life has been one big war and waiting game – battling for the best grades and waiting to learn if it was all for nothing.
And then the wait begins again. 1 Month for some (e.g. North Carolina). 3-4 Months for others (e.g. Rhode Island, California). One by one the scores are released and we find out if we are moving on in the game or stuck back at square one. It’s a difficult experience.
And now, it just got harder.
The scores are out for dozens of states, and the trend isn’t looking good.
The 2015 rates show a distinct falling pattern – EVERY state that publishes statistics has shown a drop from last year’s February results. Many are at the lowest they’ve been since I started recording them, July or February. And some states are simply not reporting as they usually do (e.g. North Carolina)
We noticed a similar trend last year, as many legal sites and writers questioned if this was an oddity or a sign of future falls. For example, last year Illinois showed such a drop that the bar association had to questions its decision to raise the minimum passing score in 2015. (1). California had their lowest passage rate in 10 years on the July 2014 exam. (3) The students and bloggers grew concerned (2, 4). And it appears those fears have been realized on the February 2015 exam.
The results are obvious – the passage rates are all down at this point. 21 states have reported results, 12 have reported passage statistics. Of those twelve, all have seen drops in their scores.
And the move to the Uniform Bar Exam isn’t stopping the decline. The UBE states are also reporting statistics, and theirs have fallen too. Washington is down to 65%, Kansas down to 81%, Idaho down to 72%. Once again, they are all below last year’s rate.
It depends on who you ask as to the reason behind the fall.
Students and many law schools are arguing that the problem is on the side of the Bar Associations who administer the test. They claim that the State bar exam associations are either A) making the exam questions more difficult (e.g. Civil Procedure was added to the exam) or B) making the Scoring more selective (as in Illinois).
On the other hand, the Bar Associations claim that the students are simply stupider now than they were before (5). In a memo to Law School Deans in October, Erica Moeser, President of the NCBE (Bar Exam Creator), said that “the group that sat in July 2014 was less able than than the group that sat in July 2013.” (5) They also tried blaming falling numbers of takers.
Regardless of the reason, the students are getting the bad end of this terrible lollipop.
At the end of week 3 the following states have released their bar results:
- Idaho (down to 72.1%)
- Iowa (down to 72%)
- Kansas (down to 81.5%)
- Kentucky (down to 70%)
- Mississippi (down to 69%)
- Missouri (down to 77.7%)
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico (down to 80%)
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Oklahoma (down to 67%)
- Oregon (down to 64%)
- Pennsylvania (down to 52.63%)
- Washington (down to 65.7%)
- West Virginia (down to 69%)
**Statistics are compared against February 2014
Life has been a little bit crazy recently; although I kind of feel like I am always saying that. The university has put on a program where ever teacher goes through strict evaluation. The first round had students evaluating their teachers. The second round, each teacher visit five other teachers twice and evaluates them both times. So we are all judged 10 times. Plus, our bosses are evaluating us twice each.
Plus, the mid-term exam for my students was re-scheduled a week earlier, right after two weeks of holidays – meaning, I suddenly went from 2 more weeks of classes to my last class overnight.
It’s all been a wee bit insane :)
However, one awesome thing happened this week! I was chosen as one of 76 professors to give a sample lecture in front of the Provincial experts as part of the school’s evaluation. The 76 professors were judged accordingly, and the top teachers receive a bonus. And I was chosen as one of the top 5 in my group!
My first year, and I’ve already gotten an award!
It was really exciting! :)
Lol, my best friend in the US gave me the blue earrings a few years ago. I just found the silver pair on the street last night. Cross-cultural earrings!