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As New York prepares to raise the bar exam’s minimum passing score in July, the president of the New York State Bar Association criticized the 15-point change in front of a legislative committee last week and announced the creation of a panel to re-evaluate the exam’s relevance. Composed of bar association leaders, law school deans, Board of Law Examiners members and others, the 13-member committee will be chaired by John J. Kenney, a partner at New York’s Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. Kenneth G. Standard, the bar president, expects the group to analyze law competencies that the exam ignores, such as oral information processing and courtroom practice, ultimately offering new testing solutions. He made his comments before the state Senate Higher Education and Judiciary Committees. The state bar has objected to the increase since it was proposed by the state’s Board of Law Examiners in 2002. “I don’t think it’s relevant unless we are putting unqualified lawyers into the streets,” Standard said. “But we need to prove that. What is the best way to determine if a lawyer is competent?” Diane F. Bosse, chairwoman of the state’s Board of Law Examiners, responded that her board had an “obligation to maintain a licensure standard that accurately reflects current norms for minimum competence.” Bosse said the minimum certification score will be raised five points each year until 2007, in the interests of “public protection.” Based on the exam’s 1,000-point scale, the passing score will increase from 660 to 675. This is the exam’s first passing-score change since 1979. During his state Senate committee testimony, Standard also asserted that the new scores could have a “disparate impact” on minorities in the law profession. “Based on all the measures we have of test-passing abilities, minorities typically have lower scores,” Standard said. Standard spoke of a 1998 report from the Law School Admission Council, a non-profit corporation that supervises the Law School Admission Test. The study revealed that 91% of Caucasians passed their first bar exam, while only 61% of African-Americans and 74% of Hispanic aspirants passed the initial attempt. Bosse disagreed with Standard’s criticism. “It is the eventual pass rate that determines who enters the profession,” she said, explaining that many first-time failures go on to pass on future attempts. The New York bar exam has four separate parts: the 200-question Multistate Bar Exam, 50 multiple-choice questions about New York law, five essay questions and a 90-minute Multistate Performance Test.

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