California Relents, Lowers Bar Exam Passing Score Amid Pressure for Increased Diversity
In a ruling many hope will help improve diversity, California has lowered bar exam testing standards amid calls to accommodate test takers with lower scores.
After holding a virtual meeting this month with various law school graduates and deans, the California Supreme Court deemed it necessary to permanently lower the passing score.
“There is absolutely no evidence that shows having a higher score makes for better lawyers,” UCLA School of Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin told the Los Angeles Times. “There is significant evidence that it reduces the diversity of the bar.”
Mnookin has long advocated for the passing score to be lowered, and she and other law school deans believe the change will encourage more black and Latino people to practice law in California.
According to a diversity report from the State Bar of California, 68 percent of lawyers in California are white, while 32 percent are people of color.
The Times reported the average passing score for the bar in the United States is 1350. Until the recent ruling lowering the state passing score to 1390, California’s was 1440.
Some describe the measure as racist and insensitive, suggesting California officials believe minorities are not smart enough to pass the exam as is.
UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky suggested that the current political influence of the Black Lives Matter movement may have had an effect on the court’s decision.
“On the one hand, the pressure to lower the score has existed for some time,” Chemerinsky told the Times.
“On the other hand, the racially disparate impact of the higher cut score may have had particular importance for the court in light of what has happened in the last few months.”
Mnookin and Chemerinsky believe the lower passing score will raise the pass rate by an estimated 10 percent.
Many critics on social media were quick to point out that the change appeared to be racially insensitive.
“Easing the exam score doesn’t remove racist people holding back minorities. It just proves that California is extremely racist and thinks minorities are stupid,” journalist Tim Pool wrote on Twitter.
Conservative social media influencer and Trump supporter Shekinah chimed in as well, tweeting, “California thinks Black and Latino people are too stupid to pass the bar exam without easing the score. Just another example of racist leftist.”
Using policies that lower standards in the name of diversity often have a negative impact on the minority communities that such policies purport to help.
“The mismatch effect happens when a school extends to a student such a large admissions preference — sometimes because of a student’s athletic prowess or legacy connection to the school, but usually because of the student’s race — that the student finds himself in a class where he has weaker academic preparation than nearly all of his classmates,” the article read.
“The student who would flourish at, say, Wake Forest or the University of Richmond, instead finds himself at Duke, where the professors are not teaching at a pace designed for him — they are teaching to the ‘middle’ of the class, introducing terms and concepts at a speed that is unnerving even to the best-prepared student.”
Just like with college admissions, it seems that if standards for passing the bar exam are lowered, those who barely meet the new required score may be less prepared for the job than those who would have otherwise passed.