Moving Students from Hearing and Forgetting to Doing and Understanding: A Manual for Assessment in Law School
50 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2012 Last revised: 28 Jan 2014
Date Written: December 2013
Completing a first final examination is something of a rite of passage for first-year law students. Too often, however, these final exams mark the first and only assessment a student receives during a semester- or year-long course. There are significant costs associated with not assessing our students more frequently, and wasted potential is chief among them. Consider the student who dutifully attends every class, carefully reads every case, and responds thoughtfully on the rare occasions when she is called upon in class. Despite her best efforts, this student may end up with a transcript covered with Cs if she never has the opportunity to practice the new skills she is expected to master. While a low grade may be an accurate reflection of a student’s abilities, it may also indicate a student who has received inadequate corrective feedback.
While assessing students throughout the academic year is no easy task, the benefits are real and worth the outlay of time. Early-semester assessments that target foundational concepts allow teachers to identify and assist struggling students more quickly and with a greater likelihood of success. Assessments conducted throughout the semester provide the teacher with feedback regarding the progress of the entire class, thus allowing for alterations to the method and pace of instruction. In addition, students who receive feedback through formative assessments are more likely to thrive in law school and work harder in order to meet faculty expectations.
I have written this article for those who want to assess their students more frequently, but are concerned that they do not have the time needed to create, administer, and review meaningful exercises. First, the document provides background information on the topic of student assessment and addresses the weak pedagogical underpinnings of the dominant form of assessment in law schools – the end of the term summative assessment. The article also explores how student assessment is only one aspect of an iterative process that includes the creation of teaching goals, feedback to the student, and feedback to the teacher. Finally, the article provides examples of various assessment techniques that are appropriate for even large law school classes. In the end, teachers will discover that a modest outlay of time is all that is needed in order to assess students more frequently. In return, the teacher reaps the benefits of a class that is engaged and more clearly understands the lessons being taught.
Keywords: assess, teach, teacher, teaching, exercises, examples, exam, exams, examination, grade, grading, rubric, feedback, iterate, iterative, TA, teaching assistant, course goals, learning objectives, summative, formative, multiple choice, peer review, peer assessment, peer assess, curve, outcome, outcomes
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