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February’s Georgia bar exam recorded its lowest success rate in nearly 16 years, with only 57.4 percent passing. But a closer look shows the state’s American Bar Association-approved schools improved their scores while non-ABA-approved schools took the fall for the lowered overall score, says Hulett H. Askew III, director of the Georgia Supreme Court’s Office of Bar Admissions, which administers the test. “When I saw these results, I realized people would sit up and take notice because it dropped below 60 percent,” says Askew. Yet a closer look reveals the results are not radically different from the last two years, he says. “In fact, there was improvement by the ABA schools over last February’s exam.” He points out that the non-ABA schools’ first-timer pass rate dropped 20 percentage points from �99, from 53.8 percent to 33.8. “That’s what caused the overall pass rate to drop,” says Askew. The more significant indicator comes from the July bar exam, which Askew anticipates will have 1,400 applicants. Of the 588 who sat for the February exam, 57.4 percent or 338 passed compared to a 60.2 percent success rate (366 of 607) last February. The February exam had the lowest overall pass rate since July 1984, says Askew. The biggest improvements in rates were among first-time takers-overall, for Georgia ABA-approved schools and for out-of-state ABA-approved law schools. The largest declines were among repeaters across the board and first-timers from John Marshall Law School, who dropped from 52.6 percent in �99 to 33.8 percent this year. Overall first-timers totaled 357 and had a pass rate of 71.7 percent (256 takers) compared to 69.5 percent in February 1999 (256 of 368). But only 82 of 231 repeaters, or 35.4 percent, passed, compared to 46 percent last February (110 of 239). Among the four Georgia law schools approved by the ABA, the first-time pass rate rose from 78.6 percent last February to 87.5 percent this year while repeaters dropped from a 65.5 percent pass rate last February to 50 percent. Out-of-state ABA-approved law schools improved first-time successes from 69.8 percent (188 of 269 takers) last year to 79.2 percent in February (176 of 222 takers). Repeaters dropped from 54.8 percent in February 1999 to 41.3 percent this year. The Multistate Bar Examination average for Georgia ABA schools improved from 138.2 last February to 140.1 this year. Emory University School of Law had the highest pass rate for all applicants, with 77.7 percent, or 14 out of 18 passing. Georgia State University College of Law was second with 75.5 percent (37 of 49), followed by Mercer University’s 73.3 percent (11 of 15) and University of Georgia’s 58.3 percent (21 of 36). GSU also was the only Georgia school to improve its overall score from February �99 when only 64.2 percent passed. Both Mercer first-timers passed, while 16 of UGA’s 17 first-timers passed for a 94.1 percent rate, followed by GSU’s 84.8 percent (28 of 33) and Emory’s 83.3 percent (10 of 12). Georgia State’s first-timer pass rate was up significantly from 70.5 percent (24 of 34) in February 1999 and its MBE average — which rose from 137.2 in February 1999 to 143.2-was the highest among Georgia schools. “Again, the numbers reflect that our students continue to do well on the bar exam,” says Steven J. Kaminshine, GSU’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. “We’re particularly pleased to see a marked improvement in our average MBE score.” Mercer’s MBE score rose slightly from 139.9 to 140.7. Kaminshine, as well as other deans, downplayed the overall significance of the February exam where smaller numbers often do not accurately reflect a school’s performance. Mercer, for example, improved its first-time pass rate from 87.5 percent last February to 100 percent this year, but only two first-timers took the exam, compared to seven of eight passing last February. “There’s not much I can say except to congratulate our two students who passed the bar,” says Mercer Dean R. Lawrence Dessem. “The real significance of the bar is over time.” Dessem says the only trend he sees is that the four ABA-accredited Georgia schools continue to outperform out-of-state ABA-accredited schools. This year, the four Georgia schools reported an 87.5 percent pass rate for first-timers (56 of 64) compared to 79.2 percent of out-of-state first-timers (176 of 222). Georgia ABA schools had a 70.3 percent overall pass rate while 67.2 percent of all takers for out-of-state ABA-approved schools passed. “I think that’s a tribute to all of the ABA schools in Georgia,” says Dessem. University of Georgia posted the lowest score for all takers among accredited Georgia schools, with a 19 percentage point drop from last year’s 77.7 percent rate when 21 of 27 passed. Other indicators were mixed, with the first-time pass rate up from 90.9 percent in February 1999 to 94.1 percent this year. UGA’s average MBE score dropped from 138 in February 1999 to 135.3 this February. “First-time results were very good,” says UGA law Dean David E. Shipley. “Among repeat takers, that really hurt to look at those.” Shipley says he will better understand the February performance when he analyzes performance, including first-year grades, and can compare the number of second-time test takers to third- and fourth-time repeaters. “I’d rather have our repeat takers doing dramatically better than they did,” says Shipley, but adds that it is difficult to draw conclusions about the school’s performance from the small numbers. “It’s the July exam where we’ll have very large numbers that will be more statistically significant than what we have here.” Emory’s all-taker rate dropped from 85.7 percent last February to 77.7 percent. Its first-timer rate also was off, with 83.3 percent passing this February compared to 87.5 percent last year, but the MBE rose from 139.7 last February to 141.1. “It is quite a small sample, and it’s very difficult to draw definitive conclusions,” says Richard Freer, Emory’s Associate Dean for Faculty. “That may be especially true with Emory because we have a lot of graduates who do not take the Georgia bar, who go to other states.” John Marshall Law School’s overall pass rate slipped to 26.2 percent this year (36 of 137), compared to last February’s 33 percent pass rate (38 of 115). Dean Robert J. D’Agostino says the scores are disappointing and hard to explain considering the school’s MBE average of 129.3 improved over last February’s score of 128.3 and July 1999′s average of 122.5. Its first-time pass rate remained the same as its July 1999 rate. “On the surface, it’s inexplicable why we are not up on the bar exam,” says D’Agostino. “Obviously, it’s very disappointing.” D’Agostino says the school will study the 71 first-time test-takers to determine why their pass rate fell so significantly. He says he’ll also review essay scores to assess students’ weaknesses, look at instruction in those areas and gather more information about repeat test-takers. Up until 1994, Marshall had an open admissions policy, which it has tightened. The school continues to seek ABA accreditation. D’Agostino says school officials will meet in Vermont on June 3 with the ABA’s Council on Legal Education before a vote that day by the council on whether to grant accreditation. “We expect a positive vote by the council. Last year it was a tie vote,” he says. The tie vote constituted a denial of accreditation.

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