Hi there. Today I speak briefly about the law school’s work in the area of learning outcomes and assessment.
Let me start with the overall mission of the law school: that is, to provide our students with the strongest preparation for employment and professional growth in legal practice, public service, and a broad range of other law-related careers.
Well, how do we know that we are in fact achieving that mission?
One measure might be simply to look at our bar exam passage rate, but that does not tell us much about whether we are producing effective and ethical advocates and problem-solvers.
Your learning objectives should be broader than knowledge of the subjects tested on the bar exam. They should include working knowledge of how the legal system actually operates; how to understand, communicate, and resolve client problems; and how to promote and improve the service of lawyers to the community.
The process of developing learning outcomes, and a program to assess whether we are meeting those objectives, is simply a way for framing a conversation in which we should always be engaged. We should routinely ask ourselves whether our J.D. program is working as intended.
So, in May 2009, the law faculty adopted a three-year assessment plan. It has several components.
At the outset, when students know what we are trying to teach them, they are more likely to learn. So the first step is to communicate our learning objectives. We actually started in October 2007 to state explicitly what Hamline law graduates should be able to achieve in terms of substantive legal knowledge, practice and problem-solving skills, and professional attributes like ethics and civility.
Next, we have devoted increased attention to our classroom teaching. Our faculty established a Committee on Teaching and Learning. That committee is charged with educating our faculty on “best practices” in teaching that increase student engagement and improve the classroom experience.
Third, we are beginning conversations among the faculty about the objectives of our individual law courses. This dialogue will initially focus on the first-year courses and include discussion about our grading policies and other assessment standards.
Fourth, we’ve adopted the long-term goal of developing tools to measure whether the J.D. program as a whole is meeting its broader objectives of effectively preparing students as professionals. That is what we call program-level assessment. For example, it’s one thing to determine whether a first-year student has passed the Legal Research and Writing course. It is quite another task to measure whether that student’s writing has improved in the next two years before graduation.
Our work on learning outcomes could not be more timely. The American Bar Association, which accredits all American law schools, is now considering revised standards that would put a greater emphasis on student learning outcomes. The proposed standards would require each law school (1) to define and communicate learning outcomes; (2) to design its curriculum to ensure that graduates achieve those outcomes; (3) to employ a variety of assessment methods to provide meaningful feedback to students; and (4) to measure the law school’s institutional effectiveness in delivering its learning outcomes.
The proposed ABA standards mirror the plan Hamline embarked on three years ago. We are proud to be on the leading edge of a movement to ensure that law schools actually deliver the rigorous education program essential to preparing students to succeed professionally.
Thanks for listening today. We’ll see you next time.