Why Formative Assessment is Essential in Legal Education

As the ABA Council meets to consider and debate the proposed revisions to the Accreditation Standards found in section 3, The Program of Legal Education, I want to highlight a Forbes article by Michael Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute.  Horn has been studying disruption in education for the last several years.  

If we take as a given that our goal in educating potential lawyers is for every single one of our graduates to have mastered the material before graduation, then a system that incorporates formative assessment and feedback is essential.  That’s because our current system of feedback and assessment does not ensure that students will be motivated to achieve mastery.  Why?  According to Horn, “the keys events embedded within curricula that could help students feel successful – examinations – occur [at the end of the semester].  Students generally don’t receive feedback on how they did for another couple weeks while the professor grades them.  And when the grades are handed out, the privilege of feeling successful is reserved only for the best students.  By design the rest experience failure.”  

But, according to the “Jobs To Be Done” theory that Clayton Christensen and Horn posit, law students hire law schools in part to make them feel successful and make meaningful progress.  How can our system of assessment be so out of line with what students hire us to do?

The article is definitely worth reading and explains why I envision blending online learning with active, problem-based, face-to-face instruction as a means to build motivation and thrive for mastery in learning for all our students.

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