Thursday, December 13, 2007

Just Wondering About None of the Above

Over on Moneylaw I have posted my annual objection to multiple choice machine graded exams (MCMG) for law students. To me it is a sign of laziness. And, since it denies the students the opportunity to communicate that they know law is imprecise, fuzzy, and inconsistent, it is also demonstrates a disregard for students. (Of course, students may like them but that is a different question than whether they are consistent with the best possible evaluation.)

One of the consistent themes of this blog has been that elitists have a powerful sense of entitlement. In law teaching it translates into "what is in my self interest must be right." There are many ways this manifests itself, one of which is the all out effort to avoid merit-based decisions. The example of this I have stressed lately is elitist hiring policies. These policies are not supported by a molecule of evidence that an elitist education makes for better law teaching.

If the sense of what is good for me is good for you extends to hiring policies, could it also apply to testing. Is there a correlation between reliance on MCMG exams and elitist tendencies? It stands to reason. MCMG exams save time, do not permit student communications and do not test what law school is supposed to teach -- reasoning and analysis. The only way to get to the conclusion that they are acceptable is to view law school as all about the professors as opposed to the students.

So, as an empirical matter is reliance on MCMG tests correlated with class? If so, does this also mean that missing classes then up went it suits the professors as opposed to the students is also a class related matter. How about traveling on the the School's tab when the travel is actually more for fun than work. Let's add support of programs and centers that are unrelated to the welfare of law school stakeholders.

I cannot conduct that study but if I could my money would be on all these things being more prevalent among elitists than among the few non elitists found in legal education.


Jason Wojciechowski said...

FWIW, the professors at my school who I've had multiple-choice exams from are the ones with the least elite credentials.

Jeff Harrison said...

Thanks, it just goes to show you that nothing is simple. My sense is that at my school the elites are more likely to but I have not tested it. In any case, we are both dealing with small samples.

Anonymous said...

Jeff--if you think multiple choice tests are "fuzzy' and "inconsistent" then why do you favor using LSAT scores as a major or even dominant factor in law school admissions?

One virtue of this form of testing is fairness and the lack of subjectivity. Students who feel victimized by subjectivity will naturally prefer this type of testing--and it may well also be a more accurate way to measure learning outcomes.

If it's true that there's too much subjectivity in faculty hiring, maybe multiple choice exams for faculty candidates is the answer! Then we'll see once and for all whether low-achieving elites really do outperform high achievers from lesser schools!

Jeff Harrison said...

Dear Anonymous I appreciate it any time one of my posts moves someone to respond but there a several ways we have miscommunicated.
1. I said the law is fuzzy and inconsistent, not MCMG exams. Those types of tests do not permit the students to show they know about the fuzz.
2. LSAT may be a good predictor of law school success but I would prefer a more nuanced approach to admissions, especially one that considered diversity and work ethic.
3. I understand your concern about subjectivity but exam grading is subjective by nature. There is, in fact, a great deal of subjectivity in mulitple choice exams -- what is important to test about, how much weight to give one as opposed to another part of the course, which answer is the "best" --The question is whether it is also unfair. If it is unfair, that is another question.
4. I think by definition, low achieving elites are outperformed by high achieving non elites.