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With record-setting speed, the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners Wednesday announced the results of the July bar exam — just 63 days after the would-be attorneys sat for the two-day test — as a result of new, high-tech methods used by essay-graders that allowed them to directly input scores into PBLE’s database. Of the 1,743 law grads taking the test for the first time, 1,408 passed, for a first-time passing rate of nearly 81 percent, a significant jump from the 77.8 percent passing rate for the July 2003 first-timers. As usual, those taking the test for the second, third or more times enjoyed much less success, with passing rates ranging from 23.6 to 38.8 percent. Overall, the 2,044 test-takers posted a 73.29 percent passing rate, with 1,498 certified and 546 failing. The Sept. 28 release of the test results “came as a shock” to some, according to Mark Dows, PBLE’s executive director. Dows said he has been aiming for quicker release of the results ever since he assumed the post in 1998. Before he took over, announcements were routinely made more than 100 days after the exams, but that waiting period has steadily dwindled, he said. Last year, the results were released on Oct. 16 — just 79 days after the test. But Dows said he’s not sure he can ever beat this year’s record-setting release date because the final process of grading cannot begin until the state receives the results of the multi-state exam. This year, he said, the multi-state results arrived just two weeks ago, slightly later than last year. Dows said the speed of this year’s process was mostly attributed to a new system in which the 21 lawyers hired to grade the six essay questions were each issued a laptop computer with a touch-screen and PBLE-designed software that allowed them to input their scores directly. In past years, Dows said, essay-graders faxed or mailed their grades to PBLE where office staff first “double-checked the math” and then inputted the data. The new system was first used by three of the essay-graders for the February 2004 test, Dows said. PBLE at first planned to have just half of the graders using the new system for the July test, Dows said, but it proved to be so successful in February that it was expanded to all of the graders. Detailed results released by PBLE show that Temple University’s James E. Beasley School of Law posted its seventh consecutive year of improvement, with a first-time passing rate of 87.7 percent, up from its 83.9 percent passing rate in 2003. Temple Law Dean Robert Reinstein said the school’s performance was the best since Pennsylvania made its bar exam standards more difficult in 1995. “I think it’s due to the fact that the increase in quality [of Temple students] kicked in with the class that came to us in 2001,” Reinstein said. “If you look at their LSAT numbers, we knew it was a good class and the quality of the classes after that has been just as strong if not stronger.” Reinstein also said the increasing pass rates were the direct result of several measures taken by the law school in recent years to address the problem of lower passing rates in the late 1990s. The first step, he said, was to “eliminate grade inflation” because a B-minus grade was not a strong enough signal to students that they had to work harder. Reinstein said the law school also established a special loan program to ensure that all students can afford to take bar exam preparation courses, or “cram courses,” prior to the test. Many Temple law students work full time and some are married with families, he said, and some could not afford to take six weeks away from work for the prep courses. The University of Pennsylvania Law School can once again boast of the highest passing rate for first-time test-takers — 95.3 percent. Although that figure is a significant improvement over last year’s 86.7 rate, the Penn statistics are much more likely to fluctuate due to the small percentage of its students who sit for the Pennsylvania test. Just 64 of Penn’s 249 grads sat for the July 2004 bar exam. According to Penn Law spokeswoman Joan Rose, the largest number of Penn students sit for the New York bar exam. Villanova University School of Law showed a decrease in its passing rate this year to 78.9 percent from last year’s 83.5 percent for first-time test-takers. But that figure too might be misleading because an increasing number of Villanova’s students are seeking jobs in New York and elsewhere, passing up the opportunity to take the Pennsylvania bar.

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