This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Spring 2021 (Vol. 90, No. 1), pp. 3–5. By Judith A. Gundersen

Judith A. GundersenWhen January 2021 Felt Like the 13th Month of 2020…

I had started this column before January 6, 2021. Then I stopped and had to start over, as the wave of optimism I had felt about welcoming the new year abruptly crashed into feelings of anger, alarm, and anxiety over whether the peaceful transfer of power—taken for granted throughout our history—would in fact be peaceful.

So, I took a break during the “13th month of 2020” and decided to wait until after the Inauguration to finish writing this column, in the belief that THAT day would show that order, stability, and the law had triumphed over chaos, violence, and lies. And January 20th was a good day. Even for the millions of voters whose candidate lost the election, it was a good day because January 20th showed all of us what a resilient democracy and a firm commitment to the rule of law look like.

Now, for me anyway, it doesn’t feel so much like 2020 is hanging around, but rather that we are emerging into a new year as a country united in its commitment to preserving this great democracy, vanquishing COVID-19, and fighting for justice for all people, especially those who have been most hurt by the pandemic and those who have suffered from systemic racism and inequality.

Preparing the Next Generation of Lawyers

Optimism reigns, and so does the rule of law—no one is above it, everyone should respect it, and it is one of the strongest ties that bind our country and our people together. I think recent events serve as a reminder to us all of the important roles that competent and ethical lawyers and judges play in preserving the rule of law and championing human rights. And Courts, admissions offices, law schools, and NCBE all have roles to play in ensuring that the next generation of guardians for the rule of law are prepared to do just that.

NCBE’s role is to provide admissions offices and Courts with high-quality assessment materials and services to help them fulfill their obligation of public protection. And we have been singularly focused on that service for 90 years—yes, 2021 marks NCBE’s 90th anniversary! Another significant milestone in 2021 is the completion of our Testing Task Force’s three-year study, which resulted in recommendations for changes to the content and design of the bar examination.

The Testing Task Force Completes Its Study 

I hope that you’ve been keeping up with the work of our Testing Task Force. The Task Force’s three-year study of the bar exam began in January 2018 and was completed on schedule thanks to the extraordinary leadership of Judge Cindy Martin and Task Force members Bucky Askew, Diane Bosse, David Boyd, Anthony Simon, and Timothy Wong—all of whom are current or former NCBE Board of Trustees members and have decades of admissions-related experience. They were ably assisted by NCBE staff members Kellie Early, Chief Strategy Officer, and Danielle Moreau, Strategic Initiatives Manager, and by Dr. Mark Raymond, Director of Assessment Design and Delivery, who joined our staff in September 2019. We are indebted to all of them and grateful for their engagement, wisdom, and hard work.

We are now poised to begin the significant undertaking of implementing the recommendations. The Testing Task Force sunsetted at the end of March, and a new group of NCBE volunteers and staff members is now leading the implementation effort. (See this issue’s Testing Task Force Final Update.) We will continue to include input from stakeholders and invite participation by members of the bar admissions and legal education communities as we undertake the exciting and important work over the next four to five years of building the next generation of the bar exam.

We remain committed to and energized by our mission to provide the highest-quality licensing exam to support jurisdictions in their admissions process.

2020 Exam Statistics

This issue of the Bar Examiner includes our annual publication of jurisdiction bar exam and admissions statistics. The statistics for 2020 certainly look a bit different than usual, given the modifications most jurisdictions made to their July exam administrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic—from administering remote exams, to administering two exams, to lowering cut scores or allowing qualified candidates to be eligible for admission without taking the bar exam. See COVID-19: Implications for 2020 Statistics for a summary of these modifications, which are important to keep in mind when reviewing the various charts on the following pages.

2021 Exam Updates

As you read this, jurisdictions are releasing their February bar exam scores. (For a list of pass rates by jurisdiction, visit our website at www.ncbex.org/statistics-and-­research/bar-exam-results/.) For the February exam, NCBE made a full set of bar exam materials available for a remote administration to jurisdictions that decided they could not administer an in-person bar exam due to the continuing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirty-five jurisdictions opted for a remote administration, and 20 administered the exam in person. (See “COVID-19 and the February 2021 Bar Exam” for a snapshot of jurisdiction decisions.)

As we look ahead, we again are offering the remote exam as an option for July, given the current state of the virus and vaccine rollout. We maintain an updated list of which jurisdictions are offering a remote July exam on our website at www.ncbex.org/ncbe-covid-19-­updates/july-2021-bar-exam-­jurisdiction-information. It is of course each jurisdiction’s Court that decides how to administer its licensing exam; in offering the remote exam, NCBE is providing secure options to help Courts fulfill their commitment to examinees, the profession, and the public during the ongoing COVID crisis.

NCBE Initiatives and Activities

Many other exciting initiatives have been in the works at NCBE even while we continue to work from our home offices, with our canine colleagues or kindergartners who are Zooming their ABCs. We are engaging more with all stakeholders and have brought on four new staff members in new positions.

Beth Donahue and Rosemary Reshetar, EdD, both joined NCBE in March. Beth is our new Senior Assessment Design Specialist, in which role she will develop subject matter outlines, test specifications, and assessment tasks to be included on the bar exam. Rosemary, in the position of Director of Assessment and Research, will play an integral role in the work of the Implementation Steering Committee (successor to the Testing Task Force) and provide thought leadership on the critical measurement and policy issues related to high-stakes assessment. Rosemary replaces Dr. Mark Albanese, who retired on April 30 after nearly 13 years with NCBE. Mark first joined NCBE as Director of Research in November 2009 and then became Director of Testing and Research in 2013.

Dr. Danette Waller McKinley joined us in April as Research Specialist, Diversity, Fairness, and Inclusion, a position designed to further NCBE’s organization-wide efforts to ensure that diversity, fairness, and inclusion pervade our operations, test products, and services. Also in April, Sophie Martin, former executive director of the New Mexico Board of Bar Examiners, joined us as Director of Communications, Education, and Outreach to lead NCBE’s organization-wide communications and outreach strategy. See the announcements in the News & Events column for information about our new staff members.

We are excited about the virtual educational programming we have presented over the past few months, including our virtual 2021 Bar Admissions Conference, attended by 411 jurisdiction representatives. Our Meetings and Education Department is busy planning more virtual educational opportunities for you in 2021. While we miss convening in person, we are grateful that we can still connect and learn across the miles.

Our volunteer drafters and staff editors have just completed a second MPRE simulated exam, which is available on BarNow, NCBE’s mobile-friendly, interactive eLearning platform (available at NCBE’s Study Aids Store, https://store.ncbex.org/), and we are close to debuting the first of what we hope are several study skills modules. This module was created by Dr. Joanne Kane, NCBE’s Associate Director of Testing, whose particular area of interest is fairness in testing. We are excited to offer this free, new feature to examinees.

The 2021 Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements was released in February, marking the launch of a new dedicated website for the “Comp Guide,” reports.ncbex.org/comp-guide. The jurisdiction bar admission requirements presented in the various charts are now accessible in an interactive format, and the new website allows us to update information throughout the year as jurisdictions change rules or adopt new ones.

Throughout the challenges of the past year plus, and those we continue to face, we remain committed to serving the profession, and we wish all of you a better 2021 as we emerge from this time. May you be safe and be able to connect with those who lift you up.  

Until the next issue,

Judy

Judith A. Gundersen

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