AALS Conference ABA Accreditation Standards Panel – Requiring Law Schools to Measure Student Learning

Today at 4pm,  Standards Review Committee presented on the current draft  revisions to the ABA accreditation standards  and according to the conference materials on “this directional change in legal education. ”  I was delighted to hear Professor Margaret Martin Barry introduce  the panel presentation with a quote from Roy Stuckey urging the Committee to focus on the importance of reflection (which you can read about in the last post and which Roy posted on the ABA site).   Dean Steve Bahls, Chair of the Standards Review Committee, described the process which led to the current version of the proposal. He reminded the audience “that the train has not yet left the station” with respect to outcomes based accreditation and that the current draft of the proposed standards has not even reached the point to be published for comment. Instead, he insists that the “train” is still being built with respect to how to revise accreditation; he  invited written comments on the proposed standards by March 15th.  

Other panelists provided examples of the University of Dayton’s Law School’s outcomes and assessment process and of the finalized outcomes-based process used to accredit Pharmacy schools. Former AALS president Nancy Rogers expressed concern about the cost of requiring outcomes-based learning in this economic environment and queried about whether the “value added” was worth it. 

 The floor was then open for questions.  Questions ranged from “What’s the problem with the way things are?” to asking the review commission to focus on professional development of faculty as teachers.   Professor Elizabeth Schneider, chair of the the Curriculum Committee of the ABA,  expressed concern about the committee’s focus on ensuring summative assessment of outcomes as opposed to formative assessment which is the focus of much of the exciting work being done currently in legal education.  I expressed concern about the recent revision’s conflation of simulation courses and live-client clinics and encouraged the committee to review Roy’s comments on this issue. 

Bottom line – whether the train is in the station ready to leave or being assembled car by car – now is the time for all good folks to weigh in on standard revisions.

One Response

  1. Although the ABA is active developing outcome based accreditation standards, others feel that the ABA isn’t the organization that should be charged with this responsibility.

    Mark Greenbaum, an attorney and author recently wrote an opinion piece entitled, “No More Room at The Bench” that appeared in the LA Times, arguing that the ABA is allowing “unneeded” new law schools to open, and failing to regulate existing schools sufficiently. He believes the market for attorneys is saturated, and that the US Department of Education must step in to save the legal profession from itself. Mr. Greenbaum further suggests that the not-for-profit, academicly focused AALS should replace the ABA as accreditors of American law schools.

    Mr. Greenbaum is not alone in his criticism of the ABA. Over 60 comments on the Wall St. Journal’s “Law Blog” coverage of this article demonstrated distrust of law schools’ reported employment and salary statistics, and a lack of confidence in the ABA’s ability to impartially police the same. Read the comments here.

    With the above articles in mind, I ask a few questions –

    1. Would we be having this discussion if we were educating law students to be capable practicioners on graduation day?

    2. Is it more unsettling that law schools may manipulate thier employment statistics or that new graduates may turn to solo practice?

    3. Why not limit the number of takers of the LSAT each year?

    4. Is the American Association of Law Schools even interested in taking over accreditation responsibilities?

    5. Aren’t new law schools the best place to change the way law students are taught?

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