Chancellor Weiss Reacts to Louisiana Bar Exam Changes

On October 19, 2011, the Supreme Court of Louisiana entered an order adopting compensatory scoring of the Louisiana bar examination effective with the July, 2012 administration of the exam.

A more far reaching proposal to revise the structure of the Louisiana bar examination remains pending before the Court. This “long term” plan would, among other changes, introduce a substantial element of multiple choice testing into the Louisiana bar examination. 

For many years, an applicant for admission to the practice of law in Louisiana has been required to achieve a passing score of 70 or better on seven of the nine separate tests comprising the Louisiana Bar Exam and on four of the five Louisiana Civil Law tests.  Compensatory scoring looks instead to the applicant’s aggregate score across all of the separate tests and allows a high score on one test to “compensate” for a low score on another test.

Under the plan adopted by the Supreme Court, the aggregate passing score would be 650 points out of a possible 900, with the five Louisiana “code” portions of the exam accounting for 600 points and the remaining four portions accounting for 300 points. The Court’s Committee on Bar Admissions (COBA) had recommended a lower aggregate passing score of 630 points.

Evaluating the new grading plan, Chancellor Weiss said: “At LSU Law, we’ve expressed serious concerns about any change in the grading of the Louisiana bar exam that would make it easier to pass the exam overall or make it possible to pass the bar exam without demonstrating competence in Louisiana civil law. From our standpoint, the move to compensatory grading is by no means perfect. But the Court wisely chose a passing score of 650 points and has given additional weight to the Louisiana code portions of the exam. These features of the Court’s plan substantially reduce our concerns.”

“We appreciate the hard work by COBA and the Louisiana State Bar Association, who assisted the Court in formulating these revisions.  We also appreciate the Court’s thoughtful consideration of our views and look forward to a continuing dialogue over the more fundamental bar exam changes proposed by COBA and pending before the Court.”

Over the course of the last year, as the Court prepared to consider a new grading plan, Chancellor Weiss had expressed his concern over compensatory scoring generally and particularly over compensatory scoring with an aggregate passing score of 630. Weiss was concerned that the 630 passing score could have substantially increased the overall bar pass rate and admitted to the bar a substantial number of candidates who failed multiple Louisiana law tests.  Weiss urged the Court to consider instead the 650 passing score recommended by a Louisiana State Bar Association committee that studied the proposals.

 “Applied to historical test data, the 630 regime results in a significant increase in the overall bar passage rate relative to both the current scoring regime and a 650 point compensatory regime,” said Chancellor Weiss in an August 15, 2011 letter to Chief Justice Catherine D. Kimball.   “The actual average overall passage rate of first time takers on … four July administrations of the exam (2007-2010) [evaluated by LSU Law Center] is 69.25%; under a 650 regime, that average pass rate would have increased only slightly, to 70.25%. Under a 630 regime, however, the overall pass rate for the four year period would have increased dramatically, to 78.75%–a 13.7% increase in the historical pass rate for the four year period,” Weiss wrote.

In his August letter, Weiss also pointed out that a 630 passing compensatory score would “lower the bar” substantially for those applicants currently achieving failing scores on two or more Code exams. For the three July test administrations LSU Law analyzed (2006-2008), 107 Code-failing applicants would have passed under a 630 score, compared to 44 under a 650 point scoring procedure.  “The percentage of Code-failers who pass under a 630 score is far greater than under a 650 score (6.28% versus 2.56%),” said Chancellor Weiss in his letter.