Asked & Answered: Jerry Marcinkoski on State Bar Exam's New Scoring System

 By Steve Thorpe

Legal News
On November 6 the results of the July state bar examination were released to applicants. This was the first state bar exam scored using a new system intended to more accurately measure competence of an applicant. Michigan Board of Law Examiners President Jerry Marcinkoski explains what was involved in developing and implementing the new scoring system.
Thorpe: When did the board first consider changing the scoring system?
Marcinkoski: The Board of Law Examiners is always reviewing its practices in order to meet its responsibility to protect the public by ensuring that law school graduates who pass the bar examination demonstrate the minimum competence necessary for admission to the bar. To that end in 2013, the Board retained one of the nation’s leading experts in the scoring of high stakes tests. Based on his analysis and recommendations, the scoring method was modified effective with the July 2014 bar examination. 
Thorpe: What were the goals for the new system?
Marcinkoski: The goals for the new system were to have a scoring system for the essay portion of the exam that more accurately measured competence by ensuring that essay test scores across administrations reflect the same skill level. A passing score should mean the same whether comparing one year to the next or the February and July administrations of the test. The new system would also act to more accurately gauge whether the examinees were demonstrating minimum competence in Michigan law, and demonstrating the legal reasoning abilities that are tested in an essay examination.  
Thorpe: In 2012, concerns were expressed that the scoring system in use then was flawed. Are you satisfied that the new scoring addresses those concerns? 
Marcinkoski: As noted previously, the BLE’s goal is to protect the public. The Board and Court have always sought to ensure that examinees demonstrate competence in Michigan law, not just the general areas of law that are more easily tested by a multiple choice exam. The new method ensures the essay portion of the exam produces scores that are consistent over multiple exams and also reflects the relative difference in difficulty over the two portions of the exam. The new scoring method helps ensure that knowledge of Michigan law, and the ability to analyze a set of facts and convey that in writing, remain a critical part of the examination process.
Thorpe: How does the Multistate Bar Examination interact with the Michigan Bar Examination to determine the total score? Has that changed?
Marcinkoski: The new method establishes a common scale that to the extent possible accounts for differences in difficulty across administrations, while making sure the applicant scores accurately reflect their competence on both the multi-state and Michigan portions of the exam. 
The multistate bar exam is weighted 50 per cent of the examinee’s combined score. More detailed information can be found on the Board’s website: 
Thorpe: Are you getting any feedback from the legal community, especially the law schools, on the new system?
Marcinkoski: The BLE appreciated the input of Michigan’s law schools as it considered improvements to the scoring system, and they favorably received the new scoring method when it was announced. In particular, the Board is grateful for the commitment of the state’s law schools to the integrity and quality of legal education in Michigan. 
Thorpe: Is the board continuing to look at fine-tuning the exam?
Marcinkoski: The BLE is confident its testing method and improved scoring system are working well to protect the public by ensuring at least minimal competence in applicants before law licenses issue. To ensure ongoing excellence with respect to our testing, we conduct internal seminars for graders, communicate with the law schools regarding our essay questions, follow strict grading guidelines, and conduct a vigorous reread and appeal process. 

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