Encountered resistance to a mid-term, when I returned to my law school in the mid-1980s, to teach a course in Legal Accounting. Unclear whether the course is even offered anymore. Thought that the mid-term would be a means for both I and the students to guage the resonableness of our respective expectations. Bad move. Forgot my own time at the law school, as a student, a decade or so earlier.
Recently met one of my former law school classmates at a funeral. Many classmate reunions seeming to occur at such events these days. Neary forty years later, he still had the bitterness, relating to a lack of justification from professors in law school, as to mixed results in certain courses. I had the same experience, when I apparently slipped in a Mortgages course. Went to see the professor. Was not permitted to see the final exam. Was not permitted to know against what had I been judged. No basis for appeal, other than to have the exam read by an academic colleague. Nowhere seeing where one went wrong. Due to a lack of a mid-term exam, no appreciation of evaluation expectations.
Law schools seem to only favour mid-term exams in first year, when the courses are full-year courses. Purpose of the mid-term being to give one an impression, in first year law school, as to whether one had a future.
In January of 1974, the results of the mid-term exams were posted at my law school. In the Contracts course in my section, I ended up with the highest mark. The student beside me hadn’t done that well, and asked to review my exam. I was honoured. Until the results came out, I had no idea as to whether I was any good, relative to peers who had contemplated law school for years. I was there as a late accepted applicant. There because my parents, following an admission acceptance that I had mixed feelings about, demanded that I try just one year, for them. If I didn’t like it after one year, I could quit and do something else. Just put your heart into one year, for us, and see what happens. So, instead of hitchhiking to western Canada, I went to law school. Blew out the relationship, only recently reconnected. Lost most of my friends from that time, after announcing I was going to law school; virtually none reconnected.
What happened was that I ended up as a magna cum laude law graduate. Slipped from the summa cum laude, in part because of a Mortgages course, where to this day I do not know how or why my performance was “C+”. I don’t have the bitterness of my law school colleague at the recent funeral, but the mixed feelings still remain.
To this day, I don’t understand why law schools will focus on 100% final examinations, when there is so much benefit to showing students at an earlier stage where they might improve, relative to particular course expectations. Maybe things are different now, and a professor must specifically justify his or her marking. Maybe things are different now, and a student has a right to see his or her examination. There are always difficulties in marking analytical responses, as opposed to numerical solutions. One can mark to a specific marking key. I have marked that way, both in university courses I have taught and on professional accounting examinations I have marked. When I marked examinations at the Bar Admission Course in the mid-1980s, one marked to a general key, and awarded letter grades, as opposed to numerical results. I have also marked on a relative basis. I know what the “A” response should be, and am marking relative to that expected response. If I am not receiving that expected response, I have to adjust expectations, rather than concluding that an entire class “just doesn’t get it”.
A key residual from my law school experience is that, with explanatory or analytical responses, I always post model student answers, without identifying the student. I invite students to compare their answers to the model, and to challenge my evaluation, if desired, by way of a written analysis of the student’s response, compared to the model. In challenging my marking, the student is never threatened with the possibility of being marked down. I also encourage challenges based on inconsistency of marking. If the student’s friend has written substantially the same, in the student’s view, but the friend received a higher mark, I encourage students to submit both papers for reevaluation. I have to justify why one student has been marked down, while at the same time assuring students that the higher,apparently inconsistently marked paper, will not be marked down.
I know how I felt when challenging the exam results in a Mortgages course, in 1975. Among the students I have taught since 1984, no student has ever felt similarly.
Postscript, May 1, 2012: While the accounting course may no longer be offered at my law school, I now find that Stanford Law School considers accounting to be an important subject for law students.
Postscript, May 1, 2012: Many law schools in Canada are now permitted to charge a premium, based in part on the questionable assumption that graduating students will be able to recover such higher fees through higher earnings in the practice of law. Another justification is the supposed need to prevent “world class faculty” from going to the United States. For example, in 2009-2010, the published fees for a year of law school at the University of Ottawa were roughly $12,000, compared to an undergraduate average of roughly $5,600. It’s now above $13,000 per year. A law degree is considered to be an undergraduate degree. Surely at double the undergraduate tuition costs, it is reasonable to expect more instructor feedback, particularly from those well-paid, “world class faculty” (who are presumably paid to both teach and research), as part of what a law student has paid for.