UPDATE: Cal Bar Exam date – September v. October?
The June 2020 Baby Bar came and went. The anecdotal evidence about the online-deployable MBE from the Baby Bar is this: technologically, the MBE went fine on June 23, 2020.
So what does that mean to the September 2020 Cal Bar applicant pool?
Remember what the Cal Supreme Court wrote two weeks ago today:
The court is grateful to learn that the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) will offer an online-deployable version of the multiple choice Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) on October 6, 2020. As the State Bar is aware, the administration of the MBE is an essential component to scoring the entire two-day exam. Although the court had originally postponed the July 2020 California Bar Examination to September 9-10, 2020, the court will consider moving the exam to October 5-6, 2020 after the State Bar assesses its online administration of First-Year Law Students’ Examination on June 23 AND the feasibility of upscaling that administration to the full exam in the fall. (emphasis mine).
So we have a 2-factor test here: 1) let’s see how the Baby Bar goes, and 2) is it feasible to upscale an online-deployable MBE to the written portion so that an October exam could take place.
The first factor (anecdotally at least) has been established: the online MBE on the Baby Bar Exam went fine.
The second factor? It’s complicated.
The Cal Supreme Court wants to see if it is feasible to upscale the online MBE to the written section of the exam. If this factor is met, then welcome to the October 5-6 Cal Bar Exam. If not, then the exam should take place in September and then the question is what form will the exam take.
My understanding is that over the last 25 years (at least), the Cal Bar has allowed the NCBE to upscale the MBE to the written portion of the exam. IF that’s true, then we have a problem. Note the final paragraph of NCBE’s post on June 1 about the availability of an online-deployable MBE exam:
Jurisdictions will be responsible for scoring the tests and interpreting candidate performance. NCBE will not equate the MBE portion or scale scores from the written portion of the test to the standardized MBE portion as we would do for the standard, full-length bar exam. Without further research, scores from an abbreviated version of the MBE administered by remote testing cannot be considered comparable to the standard, paper-based, full-length MBE administration, such comparability being an essential requirement for equating and scaling. (emphasis mine)
So… the NCBE will NOT do the upscaling that the Cal Supreme Court wants. Question: Does the Cal Bar know how to, or would be willing to, do the necessary upscaling that the NCBE typically does? I don’t know the answer. The Cal Bar’s “Report to the Supreme Court on the February 2020 California Bar Examination” says on page 3 that the scores on the written portion of the exam “were scaled to the MBE, i.e., the written scores were converted to a score distribution that has the same mean and standard deviation as the MBE score distribution.” Cool. But WHO does that scaling? The Cal Bar? Or the NCBE? That’s the big question.
IF the Cal Bar does that scaling, welcome to the October exam, seemingly. And by the way, note the language about “abbreviated version” and not comparable to the “full-length” exam. Sounds like if we have an October exam, we will have fewer MBEs on that exam. How many fewer? No idea.
But what if the Cal Bar doesn’t know how to, or is unwilling to do so? Then it seems that the October exam can’t occur, and we keep the September exam.
Then we ask: what form does the September exam take?
Can’t use the MBE based on the above, right? Argument for somehow finding a fully scaled MBE that the Cal Bar somehow miraculously has on hand?
From the Cal Bar’s letter to the Cal Supreme Court on April 15 (page 4, note 2): One option considered during the State Bar’s study process included the possibility of administering only the California-specific written portion of the California Bar Exam in an online format, foregoing the MBE. However, following a discussion with the State Bar’s psychometrician the Bar was convinced that both the written component and the MBE must be administered and graded to ensure the integrity of the examination, and that the scaled scoring is valid and reliable. (emphasis mine)
Two problems with this approach: 1) if the necessary upscaling referenced above can’t take place, then there’s no MBE exam to give in September, and 2) the psychometrician evidently has never seen the Cal Bar Attorneys’ Exam. There has been a one-day Attorneys’ Exam in California since February 1990. The Cal Bar has conducted 61 Attorneys’ Exams in California. 61. Evidently those 61 exams were psychometrically valid, properly scaled exams. Otherwise they would not have been allowed to be administered.
Bottom line: I don’t know if the Cal Bar can upscale the NCBE’s online-deployable exam. If not, I would think we keep the September 2020 Cal Bar Exam date and have a one-day Attorneys’ Exam, or we have a 2-day exam with 3 essays and a 90-minute PT on Sept. 9, and 3 essays and a 90-minute PT on Sept. 10.
What about other states that are similarly situated? Indiana, Michigan and Nevada said “no way” to the NCBE’s online-deployable exam and are conducting a one-day exam similar to the Cal Bar Attorneys’ Exam. In contrast, Washington, D.C. has chosen the October 5-6 exam with fewer essays/PT and a shorter MBE exam.
My hope: whatever decision the Cal Supreme Court chooses to make, please make that decision before July 1. You have already had two weeks since the June 10 Cal Supreme Court’s letter to think about the few permutations we have here. You know what you want to do. Don’t waste time. Decide by July 1 so we can all move forward.
We shall see what we shall see.