Review: Assessing Differently and Using Empirical Studies to See If It Makes a Difference

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By Sandra Simpson from Gonzaga University School of Law

Andrea A. Curcio, Assessing Differently and Using Empirical Studies to See If It Makes a Difference: Can Law Schools Do It Better, 27 QLR 899 (2008) [Read fulltext (2 MB PDF)](Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Law Review Association of the Quinnipiac University School of Law, © 2009; reprint courtesy

Professor Curcio makes several important points which should provoke thought and conversation on the subject of assessment: the need for better assessment to ensure and support diversity in law schools and in the profession, to ensure law school grades properly reflect students’ ability to practice law, and lastly, to ensure that assessment engages students rather than disengaging students. Her premise is that alternative assessments are needed to ensure that “law schools produce the most effective lawyers possible.” The article starts with discussing alternatives to assessment which help incorporate the Carnegie report into doctrinal course assessments. After this, Professor Curcio covers ways to study whether the changes in assessment affect student learning.

While recognizing the impact of increasing assessment in the law school classroom will have on the professor’s time to teach content and to engage in scholarship, Professor Curcio argues that this trade-off must be made. She urges professors to use different types of assessment such as factual development assessments, video reviews of doctrinal course simulation exercises, document drafting exercises, oral performance assessments, developing and using problems that raise ethical issues, developing and using in-class problems that expand a student’s world-view, and teamwork assessments. After fully discussing these assessment alternatives, the article suggests ways to measure whether the new assessments are working. These methods include designing an empirical study and utilizing the experimental study approach. Lastly, Professor Curcio discusses several areas where studies are needed to determine whether new assessments are working, such as design and development of rubrics, examination of construct validity, examination of reliability, and the examination of assessment format’s impact on diversity.

[Note: The Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) has created a resource for those interested in studying teaching/assessment but are not trained in empirical work — a SALTlist of social science collaborators.]

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