Monday, December 1, 2014

Weighted-Average Methodologies for Evaluating Bar Examination Passage Rates

Bar exam

James Ming Chen, Weighted-Average Methodologies for Evaluating Bar Examination Passage Rates, available at

There are few truly “national” law schools in the United States. Most American law schools in the United States have a “dominant” state bar. A greater number of the graduates of nearly any law school take the bar examination administered by one state than any other bar examination. The American Bar Association and U.S. News and World Report's law school rankings rely on bar passage rates for the single largest cohort within any school’s graduating class. But the modal passage rate is misleading as a measure of any one school’s overall bar passage rates. The modal passage rate also fails to facilitate direct comparisons of bar examination performance at different schools.

To evaluate the overall bar examination performance of the graduates of any law school, I propose the use of weighted-average methodologies. Ideally, we should be able to measure, by use of weighted averages, each school’s bar passage z-score. Since the data needed to conduct proper standard scoring is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to procure, I propose a simplified weighted-average methodology. The weighted average of school-specific bar passage rates by jurisdiction, minus the weighted average of passage rates from all jurisdictions where its graduates, enables us to evaluate each school's bar exam performance, relative to the bar passage rate in its modal state, and relative to the weighted average bar passage rate across the entire United States.

In the interest of completeness, I propose two other methodologies. One of those methodologies is based on ratios, in emulation of U.S. News and World Report’s law school rankings. The other is based on what I consider a reasonable parametric estimate of standard deviations in state-wide bar passage rates weighted by school, through which we can estimate z-scores for bar exam passage rates for all states and all schools.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Teaching law, without a care in this world


Titian, Girolamo and Cardinal Marco Corner Investing Marco, Abbot of Carrara, with His Benefice (ca. 1520)

As the legal academy debates tenure, Fortune magazine takes notice:

When businesses run into trouble, managers move to reduce salaries and expenditures. If only it were that simple for the multimillion-dollar law school industry, which is up against the wall trying to balance plummeting budgets while maintaining employees' academic freedom.

Law school deans' cost-cutting efforts are colliding with decades of strong job protections — short of incompetence or financial emergency — that have been granted to full-time professors. The academic ranks let out a collective sigh when the American Bar Association decided to examine whether to jettison or curb the tenure system.

It didn't take long for some 600 tenured law professors to warn that unpopular views would be stifled if tenure were diminished and have urged that any changes to the system be scotched. Many professors fear being pushed aside for cheaper, less experienced replacements.

Law school deans, meanwhile, have been remarkably silent. . . .

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Self-Adjusting Weighted Averages in Standard Scoring

All or nothing

Herewith a methods paper for the benefit of law professors and other university instructors who seek a sensible alternative to all-or-nothing final exams:

James Ming Chen, Self-Adjusting Weighted Averages in Standard Scoring, available at

Like many of their counterparts in university teaching, law professors routinely rely on all-or-nothing final examinations. But all-or-nothing final exams put enormous pressure on students, who often labor for months with no meaningful feedback on their mastery of the material.

One alternative to the all-or-nothing final exam consists of administering some sort of initial graded assignment. Assigning a relatively modest weight to the initial assignment maintains the primacy of the comprehensive final exam. To further minimize the pressure that accompanies the initial assignment, I propose an algorithm for adjusting the weight of the grade on the initial assignment so that students who boost their performance by the time of the final exam will benefit from their improvement. By the same token, students who do well on the initial assignment may wish to “lock in” some of the benefit of that performance as a hedge against declining performance on the final exam.

The method for self-adjusting weighted averages described in this paper achieves both of those objectives. It does so in strictly parametric terms, thereby removing guesswork and potential capriciousness in grading decisions. By using the standard logistic function to adjust the relative weight of z-scores, the method prescribed in this paper preserves the symmetry inherent in the presumptively elliptical distribution of grades.

The secret underlying this methods paper, such as it is, involves the application of the standard logistic curve to the computation of weighted arithmetic means.

Logistic versus exponential growth

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cnidarians and academic life

CnidariansO cnidarians! Cnidaria are the phylum of invertebrates including jellyfish, coral, and hydroids. They lack spine, but they sting. Their name is derived from the Greek word κνίδη, which means nettle. Many cnidarians — namely, those in subphylum Anthozoa — are sessile. Even the free-swimming Medusozoa, which subphylum includes jellyfishes, are rather limited in their locomotive power. The relevance of cnidarians to university life is left as an exercise for the reader.

Glaucus atlanticusAlthough this post arguably belongs in Biolaw rather than MoneyLaw, a wonderful New York Times video prompted me to post it here. Glaucus atlanticus, a nudibranch, enthusiastically and safely feeds off the infamous Portuguese man o' war. This little sea slug's ingenuity is well worth the three minutes needed to watch the video. May all of us who toil in acadème be inspired by the example of Glaucus atlanticus. Though cnidarians prevail throughout this vast ocean, there are ways to leverage their venom into defenses of our own and, indeed, to thrive on a diet of stinging nematocysts. Bon appetit!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

New Directions in Law Faculty Signatures

Dear Phillip:

Please find enclosed a reprint of my latest article, "Special Pasta Recipes: Law, Culture, and Subordination: Is There A Way Out of Here." 34 Oklahoma State City Law School Just a Few Yards South of the McDonand's Law, Policy and Cooking Review, 345 (2013). I though you might be interested  in it because I cited an article that cited yours.

Best Wishes. Hope to see you at the annual meeting.


Chadworths Osbourn
Professor of Law and Associate Director of Foreign Program, Associate Director of Family Law Institute, Designated Decanal Ass Kisser, Soon to Be (STB) Associate Director of Muffins
Ben and Jerry's Law School
University of Western New Hampshire
Freemont, New Hampshire
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Led Pledge of Allegiance in Fifth Grade Ms. Stoney's Class
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Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Venns of Faculty Governance

I see that Professor Campos is finished with his effort to expose the Law School Scam.  I read his blog once or twice but felt like I knew and agreed with most of what he was saying so I did not keep up.  Judging by some of his enemies, how wrong could he be?

Frankly, I am pretty much out of gas on my far more modest Classbias blog too. It has always had a goal that was a bit different than that of Professor Campos. Its goal was to reveal the persistent and destructive effects of institutions run by elites for their own ends.

Here is one more effort to explain the problem.  The people I know can be placed along a continuum. At one end are the "demanders." These are the folks who feel entitled to virtually everything and "demand" that their desires be met. Slipping along the continuum we come to the "askers." What ever they can think of, they ask for. At the far end are the people who do not demand or ask. If you know anything about relative deprivation, you know that to demand or ask you have to be in a context in which things are perceived as possible for people like you. For example, I remember a few years ago when two new faculty hires were told they would be given a certain sum for moving expenses. The reaction of one way, "What? They will actually pay for me to move. What a great surprise." The reaction of the other was "I cannot possible move for such a small amount." The important thing to note is that there is no correlation between need, merit, productivity, student welfare or institutional success and a person's position on that continuum.

In addition, administrators say yes to these requests and demands for a host of reasons other than student or institutional welfare. For example, an administrator may say yes just to avoid the harassment or to make sure he or she is not accused of 'insensitivity" to one political group or another. Or, the administrator may be concerned that the asker/demander is capable influencing others to believe he or she has been unreasonable.

Here is my best try at using Venn diagrams to illustrate the problem. The larger two circles are things people ask for or demand and reasons administrators say yes. The smaller circles within each one show things asked for or demanded that are consistent with student or institutional welfare and the times administrators say yes for reasons related to student or institutional welfare. That tiny overlap in the middle shows how much these interest coincide. A much larger area indicates when requests and demands that have nothing to do with student or institutional welfare get a yes answer.

Cross-posted at Classbias