Assessment of Student Learning and Outcomes

Assessment is a dynamic, faculty-driven process that works to improve student learning. By setting measurable goals of learning, we identify what it is that we hope our students will learn by the conclusion of their education with us. We collect and analyze evidence of their learning, through both formative and summative assessment devices. Finally, and most importantly, we “close the loop” by improving our academic program based on what we have learned.  Our efforts to improve bar passage, integrate experiential learning, advanced advocacy skills, and enhanced writing and research skills throughout the curriculum are examples of the assessment process at work.

On this page, we will document our assessment activities, including reports that demonstrate our compliance with the American Bar Association’s standards on learning outcomes and assessment.  This webpage is modeled after the Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes page developed by Professor Larry Cunningham, Vice Dean & Professor of Legal Writing, St. John’s University School of Law.  If you have any questions about assessment activities at the Florida A&M University College of Law, please contact Alicia Jackson, Associate Dean for Student Learning and Assessment.

Overview

Learning outcomes are the lawyering skills that students are expected to obtain by the completion of their legal education.  Consistent with ABA Standards, upon completion of a J.D. degree, graduates of Florida A&M University College of Law (“FAMU”) will demonstrate mastery of the following student learning outcomes at the level needed for admission to the bar and effective and ethical participation in the legal profession as entry-level attorneys.

Our learning outcomes reflect considerable thought, time, and attention by the faculty of the College of Law.  They include six outcomes, which may be summarized as:  (1) demonstrate understanding of substantive and procedural law; (2) employ legal analysis, reasoning, and problem solving; (3) engage in legal research; (4) communicate effectively in both written and oral form; (5) exercise proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system; and (6) use professional skills and competencies to participate ethically as a member of the legal profession. These reflect the six domains that we believe students should demonstrate competency by the conferral of their degree.  They include doctrine (#1), lawyering skills of various kinds (#2, 3, 4, 6), values (#5). The performance indicators track each of the learning outcomes and provide specific evidence that a student will have satisfied the outcomes.

While satisfying the ABA’s minimal competencies, these learning outcomes also go a step further and reflect our particular goals as a law school.  They incorporate the unique mission of the University and Law School in several respects.  Learning Outcome #5, for example, looks beyond the rules of professional conduct and asks whether students understand the importance of providing legal services to the underserved and of fulfilling responsibilities to the profession as a whole.  A commitment to academic excellence and to seek truth through research are reflected in learning outcome #3.  As a law school in Florida, a multicultural state, we aim to produce graduates who have the skills required for successful participation in a global legal profession.  To that end, FAMU is also dedicated to developing legal professionals committed to equitable justice and the rule of law.  Thus, we emphasize communication in learning outcome #4 and interpersonal skills in learning outcome #6, including self-awareness, cross-cultural competency, interviewing, counseling, and negotiation.

We kept the learning outcomes to a manageable number and included only those outcomes that pertain to every student.  Subsets of students may have additional learning outcomes, but this list is meant to be a common denominator for all students in the J.D. program.  The relevant faculty committees spent considerable time editing the list, often debating individual word choices.  In addition, we focused on ensuring that each outcome was stated with sufficient clarity so that it could be measured.

Process

The Florida A&M University College of Law is dedicated to developing legal professionals committed to equitable justice and the rule of law.

In 2014, Dean LeRoy Pernell created the faculty Ad Hoc Committee on Assessment (“Assessment Committee”) and charged the committee with evaluating the requirements for ABA standards related to student learning outcomes and assessment.  The committee was also charged to guide the faculty in the process of adopting learning outcomes for the Juris Doctorate degree.   The Assessment Committee met to review the ABA standards and to develop a method for engaging the faculty to develop outcomes that would be workable and also unique to FAMU and its mission. Guided by the Assessment Committee, on January 21, 2015 the faculty met to begin to identify the specific knowledge, skills and professional values desired for FAMU graduates.  To accomplish this goal with full faculty participation and engagement, during the January 21, 2015 workshop led by the Assessment Committee, the faculty was split into small workgroups to categorize and prioritize desired characteristics for FAMU graduates. This important workshop yielded the foundation for learning outcomes for FAMU and provided a meaningful starting place for the Assessment Committee.  After a series of follow-up meetings by the Assessment Committee, input was solicited from the faculty and on November 9, 2016, the faculty adopted six learning outcomes.

To further cement FAMU’s commitment to assessment, in December 2016, Dean A. Felecia Epps created the Associate Dean for Student Learning and Assessment position at FAMU.  Dean Epps appointed Alicia Jackson to serve in the newly created position.  Dean Jackson is responsible for spearheading the design and implementation of assessment initiatives focused on enhancing student learning and success at FAMU.   Dean Jackson also works directly with the Assessment Committee to facilitate assessment related actions, including the mapping of learning outcomes throughout the curriculum, assisting in the development of the FAMU law school-level assessment plan, and facilitating the completion of the annual university-level assessment plan and report.

Learning Outcomes for the Juris Doctorate

Upon conferral of the Juris Doctor degree, students will be able to:

(1) Demonstrate understanding of substantive and procedural law.
(2) Employ legal analysis, reasoning, and problem solving.
(3) Engage in legal research.
(4) Communicate effectively in both written and oral form.
(5) Exercise proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system.
(6) Use professional skills and competencies to participate ethically as a member of the legal profession.

Adopted by the faculty on November 9, 2016.

Performance Indicators for the Juris Doctorate

 

LEARNING OUTCOMES

Upon conferral of the Juris Doctor degree, students will be able to:

PERFORMANCE INDICATORS

Students demonstrate they have achieved this outcome by:

1.  Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of substantive and procedural law. a.  Demonstrating an understanding of the foundational concepts of business organizations, civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, evidence, professional responsibility, property, and torts.

 

b.  Demonstrating knowledge about the foundational concepts of elective courses taken by the student.

c.  Using concepts learned in required and elective courses, identifying issues and applying principles to a novel hypothetical factual scenario.

d.  Demonstrating sufficient knowledge of substantive and procedural law necessary to pass the bar exam, including the MPRE.

e.  Understanding the structure of the American legal system and how it functions, including the branches of government, the hierarchy of courts, and administrative agencies.

f.  Understanding the processes by which law is made and evolves.

2.  Employ legal analysis, reasoning, and problem solving. a.  Identifying relevant legal issues raised by potential clients’ legal problems.

 

b.  Selecting relevant legal rules applicable to each issue, including synthesizing multiple authorities into a cohesive rule.

c.  Identifying legally significant facts applicable to each issue.

d.  Applying the relevant legal rules to the legally significant facts and, as necessary, analogizing and distinguishing authorities, and responding to counterarguments.

e.  Drawing appropriate conclusions based on the outcome-determinative facts, taking into account the clients’ interests, goals, and objectives.

f.  Creating a professional work product that presents the legal analysis.

3.  Engage in legal research. a.  Developing and implementing a logical, efficient research plan that reflects an understanding of the time and financial constraints of the client.

 

b.  Identifying and effectively employing the fundamental tools of legal research to locate primary and secondary authority potentially relevant to the legal issue at hand.

c.  Critically reading primary and secondary authority to ascertain and explain its relevance and meaning.

d.  Accurately assessing the weight, relevance, and validity of authority when synthesizing the governing legal principles for a factual situation.

e.  Creating a professional work product that presents the legal research and reflects an understanding of the role that legal reasoning plays in legal research.

4.  Communicate effectively in both written and oral form. a.  Drafting and editing documents that objectively break down and analyze a legal problem.

 

b.  Drafting and editing documents designed to persuade a reader.

c.  Drafting and editing documents that create clearly understandable legal rights and obligations.

d.  In all documents, writing clear, concise, and effective sentences that are understandable to the reader.

e.  In all documents, presenting analysis in a structure that aids the reader in understanding the desired purpose of the document and the outcome suggested or desired.

f.  In all documents, employing rules of grammar, spelling, and citation.

g.  Making logically-organized, persuasive oral arguments or presentations.

5.  Exercise proper professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system. a.  Identifying the history, goals, structures, values, and responsibilities of the legal profession.

 

b.  Identifying and applying rules of professional conduct for attorneys.

c. Being able to apply the principles and policies reflected in the law governing lawyers, including a lawyer’s duty of loyalty to clients, fiduciary duties, and obligation of zealous representation.

d. Understanding a lawyer’s ethical responsibilities as a representative of clients, an officer of the court, and a public citizen responsible for the quality and availability of justice.

e. Understanding the value of a professional life that advances the mission of service to the underrepresented and recognizes the lawyer’s responsibility to ensure all individuals have equal access to the privileges of our justice system.

f.  Understanding the importance of assisting the underserved with their unmet legal needs and, if feasible, providing pro bono service during law school.

6.  Use professional skills and competencies to participate ethically as a member of the legal profession. a.  Being aware of one’s own strengths and weaknesses as they relate to the legal profession.

 

b.  Understanding the importance of cultural competency, and being aware of cultural differences that may impact representation of one’s clients.

c.  Effectively interviewing clients and witnesses.

d.  Effectively counseling clients on legal problems.

e.  Negotiating effectively on behalf of clients.

f.  Collaborating professionally with others.

g. Recognizing the most common ethical and professional liability dilemmas and

resolving them with high professional standards.

h.  Using technology appropriately in legal practice.

i.  Managing time, effort, available resources, and competing priorities.

Assessment Plan Goals

The Ad Hoc Committee on Assessment is developing an assessment plan for FAMU for 2018-2025.  The purposes of the plan are:

  1. To strengthen this FAMU’s program of legal education by gathering data about student learning, analyzing the data to determine whether students are achieving the identified learning outcomes, and adopting changes to respond to identified problem areas.
  2. To articulate an effective, workable, faculty-driven, and efficient process to assess student learning outcomes at an institutional level over a 7-year period (the ABA’s sabbatical site visit schedule).
  3. To identify the roles of faculty and relevant administrators in conducting institutional assessment.
  4. To demonstrate compliance with the ABA’s requirement that, by the 2017-18 academic year, every accredited Law School has a publicly available assessment plan.
  5. To ensure that the students acquire the requisite knowledge, skills and values expressed in the law school’s Mission Statement, which our institution deems important for the legal profession and the practice of law.
  6. To demonstrate compliance with the SACSCOC, the University’s accrediting.

Assessment Plan

University-Level Assessment

Annually, FAMU completes a university-level assessment plan that is tied directly to the University Strategic Plan.  Starting in Fall 2014, the University introduced the STARS assessment approach which involves five sequential and precise steps. Each letter of the acronym “STARS” represents an important step that is connected to the next step in a chain that ultimately comes together to contribute to the goal of successfully developing and implementing an effective assessment plan and useful  and informative reports.   Each College/School/Division at the University is required to submit a STARS plan and report annually.   The STARS approach has five steps in the process:

  1. Strategic and Student Learning Outcome
  2. Target Performance Levels
  3. Analysis and Review of Results
  4. Reflect on Results
  5. Strengthen Services and Programs

To facilitate accomplishing the five steps listed above (and discussed in greater detail below), there are two assessment documents submitted by the law school annually, the STARS report and the STARS plan.  The STARS plan and report is submitted directly to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Office of Assessment for review.  The “plan” is designed to set assessment goals for the upcoming academic year, and the “report” looks back to evaluate whether the goals from the previous year’s plan were met.  The initial STARS reports and plans were completed by the law school administration.  After the creation of the faculty Ad Hoc Committee on Assessment, a major goal was to fully involve the faculty in the STARS assessment process.  In 2017, the faculty selected both goals and related outcomes for the STARS assessment plan for 2017-2018.  In addition, the Associate Dean for Student Learning and Assessment will compile the course data to determine if the 2016-2017 plan goals were met for the completion and submission of the 2016-2017 STARS report.

The STARS reporting process has five steps in the assessment planning process.  The STARS process begins with the law school setting goals that are directly tied to the University Strategic Plan and Presidents Performance Plan, and then proceeding with the steps below.

Step 1: State Your Outcome:  List each outcome in its own table (Step 1).

Step 2: Targeted Performance Levels: In the Measures column, list the method/tool you will be using to assess your outcome; Next identify if the method/tool is direct or indirect by checking the box in the appropriate column; In the Performance level column, state your criteria for success. Please identify clearly the criteria you are setting.  Include expected percentages, expected numbers, etc. Use multiple criteria (direct and/or indirect). At least 2 measures are required.

Step 3: Analyze and Review Results: In the Measures column, list the method/tool was used to assess your outcome (usually, this will be the same as what is listed in step 2); Next identify if the method/tool was direct or indirect by checking the box in the appropriate column; In the Performance level column, state your actual results.  Please provide specific results. Include actual percentages, actual numbers, etc.  The same number of measures listed in step 2 should be included in step 3.

Step 4: Reflect on Results: Reflect on Results in relation to the outcome.  Did you meet your targeted performance level?  If not, what must be done differently?

Step 5: Strengthen programs/services: strengthen programs/services through continuous improvement. Will this outcome be reassessed next year?  If yes, state action plan or next steps to improve this outcome.  If no, state the new outcome that will be assessed and action plan for success?

Law-School Level Assessment

In the Spring 2018, the faculty mapped individual courses to the learning outcomes using a comprehensive survey distributed by the Dean’s Office, with guidance and input from the Ad Hoc Committee on Assessment.  The curriculum map will be used by the Ad Hoc Assessment Committee to improve the curriculum where necessary and to conduct assessment activities.  As new courses are adopted, this curriculum map will be updated.

  • Curriculum Map 1 (Summary). If a learning outcome is addressed in a particular course, an “X” appears.
  • Curriculum Map 2 (With Level of Competency). Faculty members were asked to identify the level of competency for each desired learning outcome.
  • “Introductory” means key ideas, concepts, or skills related to the learning outcome are introduced, but it is expected that they will be developed later in a student’s course of study.
  • “Competent” means students must demonstrate proficiency in the learning outcome by the end of the course.
  • “Advanced” means students have advanced instruction in and/or additional practice with the knowledge, value, or skill, such that they demonstrate the learning outcome with a high level of independence and a level of understanding and sophistication expected of graduates, not students. It is doubtful that a student will achieve this level of mastery of a subject or skill in a first year course.
  • Curriculum Map 3 (with Assessment Instruments)

Note that for courses with multiple sections, data was averaged.  Individual coverage and course goals will vary from instructor to instructor.

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