Bar exam scores dip to their lowest level in 10 years

Earlier, I noted that there had been a drop in bar passage rates in a handful of jurisdictions. (Follow that post to track state-by-state changes in the pass rates as the statistics come in.) A commenter theorized:

It's quite simple actually: the NCBE did a poor job of normalizing the MBE this year. The median MBE score is down a couple of points, and because states scale their essays to match the MBE results in their state, it also means median essay scores have decreased a small amount. Combine the two scores and you are seeing (in states using a 50/50 system), a 4-5 point drop in scores.

It's actually quite damning to the NCBE, because bar passage rates should be up and median MBEs also up if the historical correlation between LSAT and bar passage is taken into account.

Tennessee recently disclosed at the national mean scaled MBE score for July 2014 was 141.47. That's the lowest mean scaled MBE score for July since 2004, when the mean scaled MBE score was 141.2 (PDF). It's also almost three points lower than the July 2013 score.

There are innocuous reasons why the score dropped. It might be that there were a disproportionately high number of repeated test-takers. It might be that an increase in non-American law degree test-takers yielded a drop. Or there might be other reasons, too.

But for whatever reasons, the decline in MBE scores is almost assuredly the reason that bar passage rates have dropped in a number of jurisdictions. Whether similar declines are going to arise in places like New York and California in the weeks ahead is simply a matter of waiting.