Assessment

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, our success-driven and integrated approach to career development, and our Lawyering and Advanced Practice Writing requirements 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.

Larry Cunningham
Associate Dean for Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness & Professor of Legal Writing

Student Learning Outcomes

Overview

Our learning outcomes reflect considerable thought, time, and attention by the faculty of St. John's Law.  They include seven outcomes, which may be summarized as: (1) knowledge of the law; (2) legal analysis, reasoning, and problem-solving; (3) factual development and legal research; (4) communication; (5) professional responsibility and ethics; (6) interpersonal skills; and (7) engagement at a scholarly level.  These reflect the seven 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), and scholarship (#7).  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—important values of a Catholic university—are reflected in Learning Outcomes #1, 3, and 7.  As a Law School set in New York City, we aim to produce graduates who have the skills required for successful participation in a global legal profession.  Thus, we emphasize communication (#4) and interpersonal skills (#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

Our action in this area began in earnest during the 2014-15 year, when members of the faculty and administration (specifically, Dean Cunningham, Professor Pepper, and, later, Dean Landrum) became active members of the University's Assessment Committee, a body established by former Provost Robert A. Mangione, Ed.D., R.Ph., for the purpose of promoting and coordinating assessment activities throughout the University. The Office of the Provost and School of Law jointly sponsored a university-wide assessment workshop in February 2015 conducted by an outside consultant, who also met with the Law School's Strategic Planning Committee, the body charged by the dean with identifying recommendations on an initial assessment process.  The Strategic Planning Committee met several times to consider the new standards and made several recommendations to the Dean, including a process for drafting the learning outcomes.  

In the 2015-16 academic year, the Law School's Curriculum Committee spent considerable time drafting proposed learning outcomes for the J.D.  A subcommittee, consisting of faculty, administrators, and a student, met often to review the ABA standards and to draft outcomes that would be workable and also unique to St. John’s and its mission.  Input was solicited from the Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Committee, as well as the Dean.  Initially, the subcommittee proposed a set of seven learning outcomes.  Later, a set of “performance indicators” was added to each learning outcome in order to show the evidence that we would look for in conducting our assessment of each outcome.  The full Curriculum Committee met to review the work of its subcommittee and approved the learning outcomes on February 10, 2016.  The Faculty Council adopted the proposed learning outcomes, with some revisions, on February 17, 2016.

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 factual development and legal research.
  4. Communicate effectively in both written and oral form.
  5. Fulfill professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system.
  6. Use interpersonal skills to participate competently and ethically as a member of the legal profession. 
  7. Engage with legal concepts, policies, and values at a scholarly level.

As adopted by the Law School Faculty Council on February 17, 2016.

 

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 understanding of substantive and procedural law.

a. Identifying and applying foundational concepts of civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, torts, and the manner in which the law, both statutory and judge-made, evolves. 

b. Identifying and applying concepts of other core areas of law, such as administrative law, business organizations, evidence, tax, and trusts and estates. 

c. Identifying and applying concepts in areas of law not otherwise required by the Law School curriculum. 
2. Employ legal analysis, reasoning, and problem-solving.

a. Identifying relevant legal issues raised by clients’ legal problems.

b. Identifying 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 facts, taking into account the clients’ interests, goals, and objectives. 
3. Engage in factual development and legal research.    

a. Creating and executing a factual development plan, interviewing, and marshalling facts learned from a factual investigation.

b. Developing a legal research strategy that is efficient and takes into account financial constraints of the client.

c. Locating, analyzing, and synthesizing primary sources relevant to the legal issue at hand.

d. Locating, analyzing, and synthesizing  secondary sources relevant to the legal issue at hand.
4. Communicate effectively in both written and oral form.

a. Drafting and editing documents that objectively analyze a legal problem.

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

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

d. In all documents, writing in a clear, concise, and effective manner.

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

f. Making persuasive oral arguments or presentations.
5. Fulfill 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. Understanding the importance of assisting the underserved with their unmet legal needs and, if feasible, providing at least 50 hours of pro bono service during Law School.
6. Use interpersonal skills to participate competently and 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. Being aware of cultural differences that may impact representation of one’s clients.

c. Interviewing clients and witnesses.

d. Counseling clients on legal problems. 

e. Negotiating effectively on behalf of clients.
7. Engage with legal concepts, policies, and values at a scholarly level.

a. Identifying an unresolved issue of law or legal policy.

b. Researching, locating, digesting, and engaging with scholarship on the topic.

c. Communicating an argument on the issue.

d. Citing and attributing the words and ideas of others in a proper manner.

On April 13, 2016, the Law School Faculty Council adopted an assessment plan for 2016-2023. The purposes of the plan are:

  1. To strengthen this Law School’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 provide students with a certification that they have the requisite skills and values under “Pathway 1” of 22 N.Y.C.R.R. § 520.18 that the Law School has identified as important to the practice of law.
  6. To demonstrate compliance with Standard 14 of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

As explained further in the plan document, during each annual cycle, one learning outcome is assessed using a combination of direct and indirect measures.  An ad hoc assessment team gathers and analyzes data, and proposes recommendations to the Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Committee, which is responsible for coordinating all of our assessment efforts.

The Faculty Council adopted the following timetable for assessment:

Learning Outcome/Year2016-172017-182018-192019-202020-212021-222022-23
1. Demonstrate understanding of substantive and procedural law.  PlanCollect & analyze data, propose follow-upFollow-Up  
2. Employ legal analysis, reasoning, and problem-solving. PlanCollect & analyze data, propose follow-upFollow-Up   
3. Engage in factual development and legal research.   PlanCollect & analyze data, propose follow-upFollow-Up 
4. Communicate effectively in both written and oral form.Collect & analyze data, propose follow-upFollow-Up     
5. Fulfill professional and ethical responsibilities to clients and the legal system.     PlanCollect & analyze data, propose follow-up
6. Use interpersonal skills to participate competently and ethically as a member of the legal profession.    PlanCollect & analyze data, propose follow-upFollow-Up
7. Engage with legal concepts, policies, and values at a scholarly level.PlanCollect & analyze data, propose follow-upFollow-Up    

In Spring 2016, faculty mapped individual courses to the learning outcomes using a survey distributed by the Dean's Office. As new courses are adopted, this curriculum map will be updated. The curriculum map will be used by the Curriculum Committee and the Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Committee to improve the curriculum and conduct assessment activities, respectively.

  • Curriculum Map (Summary) (last updated: September 16, 2016). If a learning outcome is addressed in a particular course, an "X" appears.  
  • Curriculum Map (With Level of Competency) (last updated: September 16, 2016).  Faculty were asked to identify the level of competency for each desired learning outcome.
    • “Introduction” 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.
    • “Competence” 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 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. 

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