Formative Assessments: A Law School Case Study

56 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2017  

Deborah Jones Merritt

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Ruth Colker

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Ellen E. Deason

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law and Mershon Center for International Security

Monte Smith

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Abigail B. Shoben

Ohio State University (OSU) - College of Medicine and Public Health

Date Written: April 19, 2017

Abstract

Several empirical studies have shown that formative assessment improves student learning. We build on those studies by reporting the results of a natural experiment at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Students in one of three first-year sections had the opportunity to complete a formative assessment in their spring-semester Constitutional Law course. The assessment consisted of an essay question that the professor had used on a prior exam. Students who submitted an essay answer received prompt, extensive written feedback; they also had the chance to discuss their answer with the professor.

Over the course of three years, about half of the students enrolled in the section took advantage of the formative assessment. Those students achieved significantly higher grades on the final exam even though the assessment score did not factor into their course grade. Notably, students receiving this formative feedback also secured a significantly higher GPA in their other spring-semester classes. Both of these effects persisted after controlling for LSAT score, UGPA, gender, race, and fall-semester grades. These controls helped reduce any effect of selection bias on our findings.

In addition to exploring these relationships between formative assessment and academic achievement, we discuss several race and gender effects that emerged in our analyses. Women, for example, were significantly more likely than men to complete the formative assessment. Women also received significantly higher grades than men in a spring-semester course on Legal Analysis and Writing; men, conversely, received significantly higher grades than women in a Legislation course. A race effect, meanwhile, emerged for students with LSAT scores at or above the school median: Among those students, nonwhite students who completed the formative assessment achieved significantly higher grades in Constitutional Law than white students who submitted the same exercise.

All of these relationships deserve further empirical study. In particular, our results suggest the importance of examining the transfer effects of formative feedback, gender differences in law school learning, and paths for improving the academic experience of minority students.

Keywords: Assessment, Pedagogy

Suggested Citation

Merritt, Deborah Jones and Colker, Ruth and Deason, Ellen E. and Smith, Monte and Shoben, Abigail B., Formative Assessments: A Law School Case Study (April 19, 2017). University of Detroit Mercy Law Review, Forthcoming; Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 392. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2955055

Deborah Jones Merritt (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States
614-247-7933 (Phone)
614-292-4868 (Fax)

Ruth Colker

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States
(614) 292-0900 (Phone)
(614) 292-2035 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/faculty/professor/ruth-colker/

Ellen E. Deason

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law and Mershon Center for International Security ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States
614-688-5794 (Phone)
614-688-8422 (Fax)

Monte Smith

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

Abigail B. Shoben

Ohio State University (OSU) - College of Medicine and Public Health ( email )

United States
614-247-8092 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://cph.osu.edu/facstaff/biopage?u=ashoben

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