The American Bar Association accreditation standards now require law schools to meet three objectives to improve legal education:
Set clear learning outcomes for students,
Provide a curriculum that allows students to meet those outcomes, and
Assess whether the curriculum actually does what it intends to do in preparing students for the practice of law.
The College of Law has nearly completed this process after careful thought and planning throughout the last three years.
First, the College of Law adopted six learning outcomes that reflect our educational priorities for students:
- Demonstrate a professional level of knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law.
- Research, assess, and synthesize legal information in order to perform legal analysis.
- Communicate effectively, both orally and in writing, in a range of contexts, modes, and forms, and to a range of audiences.
- Model the ethical obligations of a lawyer and develop the capacity for reflective judgment.
- Demonstrate an understanding of the role and duties of the professional in the legal system and society generally.
- Exhibit a commitment to the value of service in the legal profession.
These outcomes are specifically designed to ensure that our students are taught all of the crucial components of being a good lawyer so they are prepared to embark on their legal career fully equipped with the knowledge, skills, and understanding of ethics and professionalism they need to succeed.
Second, we mapped our curriculum to determine where we are already teaching the learning outcomes we adopted and better understand how we approach teaching and whether we are offering enough options to our students to ensure they are taking the courses that help them achieve their learning outcomes.
Next, we began the assessment process of our courses. This entails an evaluation of the student work product in courses that are clearly linked to a particular learning outcome.
For example, we need to assess our students’ written work to see if our curriculum provides the proper instruction that they need to “communicate effectively . . . in writing,” as required by our third learning outcome. To do that, we have compiled student written work and will be anonymously assessing whether students have made sufficient progress in their writing skills to be considered prepared for practice.
Each year we will be tackling a new learning outcome to assess whether we are teaching our students well in a particular crucial area. If our assessment determines that students are struggling in an area, it will be incumbent upon us to adjust our curriculum to ensure that all students have an adequate baseline to build upon in practice.
We are hopeful that this new system will give us a much more clear picture of our educational program’s strengths and weaknesses, and allow us to provide an even more fulfilling experience for all of our students.