The AALS recently commented on potential revisions to the Standards for Accreditation of Law Schools that are currently under development by the ABA’s Standards Review Committee. In its letter to the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the AALS doubts that reliable and valid outcome measures have been documented to exist and worries that requiring outcomes to be measured would simplify the types of learning under scrutiny. The letter characterizes input measurements as imperfect, second-best ways to assess student learning, but asserts that the proposed change to output measures may be worse.
Among the caution flags raised by the AALS letter, the assertion that requiring outcome measures will stifle curricular innovation is perhaps the least persuasive. Revising accreditation standards to focus on outcomes will prompt institutions and faculties to re-conceptualize the mission of educating future lawyers. Without a new standard targeting outcomes, many schools will remain bound by tradition and inertia. Inverting perspectives on teaching to grapple with outcomes is a challenging, but invigorating endeavor. Merely reflecting on the fundamental questions – what are we trying to teach and how can we discern whether learning has occurred – presents opportunities for enhancing the quality of education. Shifting the focus from inputs to outcomes is likely to spark new thinking and curricular innovation, rather than squelch it.
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