Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye California Supreme Court
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye California Supreme Court (Jason Doiy / The Recorder)

SACRAMENTO—Democratic members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee asked the California Supreme Court on Thursday to temporarily reduce the required passing score on the state bar exam.

California’s pass score, also known as the cut score, is the second highest in the nation. The cut score has been under fire since November, when the results from the July exam revealed that just 43 percent of test-takers passed—a 32-year low.

Frustrated law school deans told lawmakers at a hearing last month that the high score is putting their graduates at a competitive disadvantage and forcing educators to spend too much time focusing on test preparation.

“We agree that high standards for attorneys to practice law in California—in terms of education, legal training, and ethics—are appropriate and necessary in order to protect the public and preserve justice,” the committee members wrote in a letter to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. “But we also believe that standard must be based on data and research correlating with public protection.”

The lawmakers said testimony from the hearing revealed “it was unclear that there is a rational basis, let alone a close evidence-based connection, between California’s high cut scores and protecting the public.”

State Bar executive director Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker testified at the February hearing that “there is no good answer” for why the state’s cut score is so high.

A spokesman for Cantil-Sakauye said the Supreme Court had not received a copy of the letter as of Thursday afternoon and declined comment.

In a letter sent Tuesday to state bar leaders, the chief justice noted the deans’ “significant concerns” and asked bar officials to investigate the exam and its pass rates and to issue a report by Dec. 1. On Thursday, Assembly members said a study with no promised action “will not adequately address this crisis.”

“Applicants, law schools and the general public can’t afford to wait a year or more for action as a result of such studies,” the lawmakers wrote.

The legislators did not say what they believe the new cut score should be.