Corrected Post on July Exam Results

[To replace my post from yesterday, which misreported Oklahoma’s pass rate]

States have started to release results from the July 2015 bar exam. So far the results I have seen are mixed:

Iowa’s first-time takers enjoyed a significant increase in the pass rate, from 82% in July 2014 to 91% in July 2015. (I draw all 2014 statistics in this post from NCBE data).

Fluid-Intelligence Affirmative Action

I wrote in a recent post that many affirmative action programs reflect a belief in fixed intelligence. In these programs, faculty assume that affirmative-action admits have less ability than their white peers. That ability, faculty further assume, condemns those admittees to low law school grades. In addition, the presence of less qualified minority students may aggravate the stereotype threat that can impair performance by all minority students–leading to still lower performance overall.

I then, however, explained that a belief in fixed intelligence is mistaken. Intelligence is much more fluid than many individuals understand. Adopting a fluid-intelligence mindset, moreover, can itself enhance achievement. This brings us to the questions: How does a belief in fluid intelligence affect our concept of affirmative action? And how might those beliefs affect the performance of minority students?

Is Intelligence Fixed?

This post is part of a series discussing the challenges that minority students face in law school. You can read previous posts here, here, and here. As I noted in my most recent post, our beliefs about intelligence can affect both student performance and the impact of affirmative action programs. I also suggested that many law students and professors believe that intelligence is fixed. Indeed, the law school culture seems to promote that belief. But is intelligence really fixed?

Affirmative Action and Fixed Intelligence

I wrote this summer about a study demonstrating a worrisome trend among minority law students: They received lower grades than white peers with similar LSAT scores, undergraduate achievements, and work experience. Part of the problem, I suggested in a second post, stems from the psychological phenomenon of stereotype threat. When individuals are placed in situations in which a group stereotype suggests that they will perform badly, they do just that. Remove the stereotype threat and performance improves to match that of other individuals with similar experience and abilities.

Stereotype threat arises in part from the implicit racial bias that permeates our culture. If professors, classmates, friends, and family members see minority students as less capable than white ones, those perceptions can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Unconscious bias, unfortunately, is invisible only to the holders of that bias; targets readily perceive the negative assumptions and respond to them.

Our Own Worst Critics

The journal Science just published a study reporting that top scientists were unable to reproduce the results claimed by 75% of social psychology studies and 50% of cognitive psychology ones. All of the studies appeared in top-ranked journals.

Some scientists, I’m sure, are reeling that their work has been challenged. But I like the attitude expressed by Brian Nosek, a prominent researcher who led the reproduction study. “Scepticism is a core part of science,” he told journalists, “and we need to embrace it. . . . We should be our own worst critics,”

The Tale of Two Students

A recent statement by a group of deans offers a telling insight into the way law schools envision their graduates’ practice experience. In the course of criticizing California’s proposal to require 15 units of experiential education, the deans contrast two types of students.