This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Winter 2023–2024 (Vol. 92, No. 4), pp. 36–41.

Portrait photo of Mark A. Albanese, PhDMark A. Albanese, PhD, former NCBE Director of Testing and Research, passed away on December 31, 2023. Dr. Albanese joined NCBE as Director of Research in 2009, stepping into the role of Director of Testing and Research in 2013. He officially retired from NCBE in August 2021, only to rejoin on a part-time basis as Director Emeritus in April 2022.

This special section honoring Dr. Albanese includes remembrances from NCBE President and CEO Judith A. Gundersen, as well as several people who worked closely with him professionally.

For Dr. Albanese’s obituary, please visit cressfuneralservice.com/obituaries/mark-albanese. Visit the Bar Examiner website at thebarexaminer.ncbex.org/ for articles Dr. Albanese wrote over the years.


Remembrance by Judith A. Gundersen

It is with a heavy heart that I write of Dr. Mark Albanese’s passing on December 31, 2023. Mark was NCBE’s Director of Testing and Research until his retirement in August 2021. Even after retirement, Mark continued to contribute to NCBE by reviewing studies and articles on a part-time basis, beginning that work in April 2022 and continuing until early December 2023.

In this issue of the Bar Examiner, several of us who had the privilege of working with Mark reflect on his contributions to NCBE as both a colleague and a friend, to the bar admissions community, and to the larger measurement field.

Mark joined NCBE in 2009 after a long career as a professor of population health and educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the School of Education. Mark began his tenure at NCBE as Director of Research, working with Dr. Susan Case, NCBE’s then-Director of Testing. (See Susan’s tribute to Mark.)

The research interests Mark oversaw, and his resulting publications and studies, were diverse and complex and beyond the scope of this tribute. But his bar exam–related research helped all of us in the admissions and legal education communities better grasp foundational measurement principles such as validity, reliability, scaling, and equating. He also addressed speededness, subscores, and cheating, to name a few more topics. His research also was aimed at responding—even for internal purposes only—to claims about licensure testing and the bar exam specifically that were unsupported by empirical evidence.

Upon his retirement in 2021, we presented him with a bound volume of his many Bar Examiner Testing Columns. I, like many others at NCBE and in the bar admissions community, still routinely refer to his columns for education and insight. Though the topics might be dry to some, he managed to make them accessible and, I dare say, humorous. To wit: “Speed (Not the Drug, and It Does Not Kill, but It Can Cause Stress)”; “Scaling: It’s Not Just for Fish or Mountains”; and “Standards? We Don’t Need No Stinking Standards!” (See a reprint of the latter article.)

But Mark’s research and writing represented only a fraction of his contributions to NCBE and bar admissions. He oversaw the NCBE measurement and research (now psychometric) department at NCBE, which by itself was an enormous responsibility, with a large staff of psychometricians, research analysts, PhD students, and administrative staff. Mark’s team approved MBE and MPRE exam forms to ensure appropriate statistical properties regarding difficulty. They then scored and equated the exam, using precise data collection methods and multiple checks to make scoring and equating 100% accurate. Not 99.5%. 100%. There was (and is) no room for “good enough” in the world of high-stakes testing such as the bar exam. Each year, Mark managed five MBE and MPRE scoring processes and score reporting cycles. Scoring the MBE, of course, also encompasses scaling jurisdiction MEE and MPT scores to the MBE for every UBE jurisdiction, a total of 39 at the time he retired.

Portrait photo of Mark A. Albanese, PhDBecause Mark knew how important it was to have multiple checks on exam scoring, he advocated for an independent, nationally recognized expert to conduct its own scoring of the MBE after every administration. We selected the Center for Applied Studies in Measurement Advancement (CASMA) from the University of Iowa. CASMA’s “shadow” scoring and equating continue today. Though we’ve never had any discrepancy between our team’s results and CASMA’s, this “belt and suspenders” approach underscores our commitment to applicants, courts, and admissions offices that we stand by our work and have complete confidence in the accuracy of our results. (See a joint tribute to Mark from the current Director and the Founding Director of CASMA.)

Mark also led migration of the MPRE from a paper-based test to a computer-based test using Pearson VUE test centers beginning in 2017 and culminating in our first computer-based test administration in August 2019—an enormous project. There was so much to consider and manage for this transition, including collecting data, scoring, studying whether there was a mode effect going from paper-based testing to computer-based testing (that is, whether changing the mode of administration resulted in changes to some examinees’ responses), and score reporting. We also needed to ensure that over the course of the two-day MPRE testing window, applicants testing on day two couldn’t get access to the secure exam and gain an advantage that earlier examinees lacked.

And that brings me to another aspect of Mark’s work at NCBE and with jurisdictions. Mark was a nationally recognized expert in conducting cheating analyses. To be sure, the vast majority of candidates do not cheat on the bar exam. However, a very small group is suspected of cheating on each administration. Mark and his team gave jurisdictions the tools needed to determine whether to invalidate a score and conduct follow-up investigations. Mark worked very closely with admissions offices on these cheating analyses. (See Christine Kenefick’s tribute to Mark.)

Mark and his team also worked with jurisdictions to help them determine—where possible—whether a test administration anomaly such as a noise disturbance might have affected candidate performance. Mark and his team used statistical analyses to parse pre- and post-­disturbance performance to give a jurisdiction a statistically sound basis for reviewing a score.

On a personal level, Mark was a dear colleague and friend with a wide range of interests and talents and … a psychometrician’s sense of humor (yes, there is such a thing!). He was an accomplished athlete (a former Division 1 gymnast) and maintained a very active lifestyle of biking, cross-country skiing, and running (including at lunch time—always out and back for exactly 1.5 miles each way, never a loop)—and he amazed us with his one-arm push-ups. But most importantly, Mark was a devoted family man. He and his wife Aggie are the parents of four grown children and have six grandchildren. Family meant everything to Mark, and he lived his life accordingly.

Judith A. GundersenJudith A. ­Gundersen is the President and CEO of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Remembrance by Mengyao Zhang, PhD

I joined NCBE almost nine years ago for my first job out of graduate school, having earned my PhD in statistics and measurement from the University of Iowa—the same program from which Mark had earned his. In the six years that followed, until his retirement in 2021, I was fortunate to have Mark as my supervisor.

Mark was a mindful leader and a trusted mentor. He encouraged me to pursue research in psychometrics and testing, and guided me into the field of test security, which I found to be a fascinating field with numerous learning opportunities. He readily gave kind and insightful advice, acknowledged my progress (both big and small), and listened to and supported me when I needed encouragement.

Mark was a wonderful colleague to work with, and I particularly enjoyed when he shared his own experience and stories. He was a health and fitness enthusiast, which undoubtedly has had a lasting impact on my life. On a personal level, Mark and his wife, Aggie, were well known for throwing wonderful backyard parties with delicious food and a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere. The joy and happiness that radiated from those times have become cherished memories for me and my family. Mark, you will forever be remembered and missed.

Portrait photo of Mengyao Zhang, PhD

Mengyao Zhang, PhD, is the ­Associate Director of Psychometrics for the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Remembrance by Juan Chen, PhD

I still remember the summer of 2014 when I interviewed for the position of Research Psychometrician at NCBE and met Mark. He welcomed me warmly, providing a detailed introduction to the organization and the challenges and opportunities of the position I was applying for. He also introduced Madison, portraying it as a beautiful and vibrant city—even in winter. This made it easy for me to decide to work and settle in Madison. Reality proved Mark right, and my husband soon followed me to Madison from another city and also joined NCBE as a Developer/Analyst in NCBE’s IT Department.

Mark and I were both PhD graduates from the University of Iowa, making conversations about our alma mater a common topic. Mark was a great leader, always willing to support, help, and guide me in my work. His leadership and continuous support were instrumental in my professional growth.

He was very kind and friendly, organizing barbecues in his backyard and preparing desserts for colleagues. He often invited me and my family to his barbecues, and my children always loved the delicious desserts and the swing in his yard. His kindness and optimistic proactiveness greatly influenced how I approach my work and my life. Mark will always be remembered fondly.

Portrait photo of Juan Chen, PhD

Juan Chen, PhD, is a Principal Research ­Psychometrician for the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Remembrance by Susan Case, PhD

Mark and I were colleagues for 40 years. Mark was a well-respected researcher who published on a wide array of topics that included not only best practices in high-stakes assessment, but also best teaching practices, expertise garnered from his prior role as a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the School of Education. He was honored with the John P. Hubbard Award in 1998, which recognizes individuals for their significant contributions to pursuing excellence in assessment in medical education, and by being named the 2005–2006 Jack L. Maatsch Visiting Scholar in Medical Education, a program that brings academics to Michigan State University to offer their expertise on assessing clinical competence in the training of physicians.

Mark joined NCBE as Director of Research in November 2009. At that time, I had been NCBE’s Director of Testing since 2001. After decades of working in distant locales and seeing each other only at professional conferences, it was an unexpected and pleasant development to find ourselves working in adjacent offices at NCBE.

But Mark wasn’t only about work. He was a crazy fitness character, biking to the office in ridiculous Madison weather and working out every lunch hour to maintain his gymnastics physique. As a lifetime nonexerciser, I didn’t get it.

Even more significant for Mark, however, was his love for his family. And (unlike his devotion to fitness), this was something we shared. When we weren’t pondering the best way to communicate our research findings to the legal education and bar admissions communities, we kept each other up to date on the day-to-day accomplishments of our spouses, children, and grandchildren. My husband Bob and I enjoyed many dinners with Mark and his wife Aggie.

Mark was indeed a gentleman and a scholar. I am grateful not only to have had him as a colleague for decades of my professional life, but to have had him as a friend.

Portrait photo of Susan Case, PhD

Susan Case, PhD, served as the Director of Testing for the National Conference of Bar Examiners from 2001 to 2013.

Remembrance by Won-Chan Lee, PhD, and Robert L. Brennan, PhD

It is with profound sadness that we commemorate the life of Dr. Mark Albanese. The Center for Advanced Studies in Measurement and Assessment (CASMA) at the University of Iowa has had a long-term relationship with NCBE through various contracts for the MBE and MPRE testing programs since 2015, the first of which was established under Mark’s leadership. Mark’s unwavering dedication to our shared initiatives has left an indelible mark on this collaboration.

Mark’s tenure as Director of Testing and Research for NCBE was characterized by exemplary leadership, astute decision making, and a steadfast commitment to the values that define both CASMA and NCBE. He was pivotal in establishing and nurturing the professional relationship between our organizations, and his visionary approach significantly contributed to the successful execution of our contracts.

Beyond the realm of contracts and professional pursuits, Mark was a person of profound integrity, kindness, and passion. His enduring impact on the legal community and the field of educational measurement is a testament to his exceptional contributions.

As we reflect on this profound loss, we extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and NCBE colleagues. Mark’s legacy will forever be intertwined with the achievements we shared during his tenure at NCBE.

In tribute to his memory, CASMA will continue to honor Mark’s principles and dedication to excellence.

Rest in peace, dear Mark ­Albanese, and may your legacy endure through the memories and lessons you’ve left behind.

Portrait photo of Won-Chan Lee, PhDWon-Chan Lee, PhD, holds the position of ­Professor of ­Psychological and Quantitative Foundations in the College of Education at the University of Iowa. He also serves as the Director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Measurement and Assessment.

Portrait photo of Robert L. Brennan, PhDRobert L. ­Brennan, PhD, holds the position of Lindquist Chair Emeritus and ­Professor Emeritus of Psychological and Quantitative ­Foundations in the College of Education at the University of Iowa. He was the Founding Director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Measurement and Assessment.

Remembrance by Christine Kenefick

My first contact with Mark ­Albanese was in the summer of 2011 concerning a pending copying matter stemming from the New York July bar exam. I was assigned to the case as the Senior Attorney for the New York Board of Law Examiners. Following protocol, I submitted an MBE Answer Sheet Comparison Request Form, which NCBE makes available to jurisdictions for suspected copying incidents. Mark, in his capacity as Director of Research, issued the resulting NCBE report based on the information New York provided. The candidate suspected of copying was thereafter charged with copying and was provided with a copy of the NCBE report in the course of the proceeding. The candidate requested a hearing—and specifically sought to have Mark produced as a witness to be questioned about it.

So, I naively called Mark on the phone. Just as naively, Mark answered my call. And the two of us had a fabulous discussion on the matter and agreed to speak again later to prepare for the hearing. Mark was not only ready, willing, and able to testify; he was giddy about it. Following our call, the then–powers that be put a kibosh on any hearing preparation “until further notice.” As Mark’s status as a witness for the Board remained up in the air, the matter ended up resolving itself without a hearing. Phew. When Mark and I finally met in person for the first time at a meeting of the Council of Bar Admission Administrators (CBAA), we chuckled about—and toasted to—“getting in trouble together.” Our friendship was cemented.

The friendship, I fear, was mostly one-sided in that Mark was perpetually overburdened with the unattainable goal of helping me understand the psychometric aspects of the MEE, MPT, and MBE. This was no fault of his—he was an astute teacher; rather, I was a particularly dense student. Over the years, I asked or emailed the same essential questions, perhaps slightly reworded, dozens of times. I would often start the email or in-person conversation with the same phrase: “I need a refresher and am not asking for a frosty cocktail.” He would typically respond with something self-deprecating and witty, often joking that he seemed to have better luck explaining psychometrics to people after a few cocktails. No matter how repetitive or simple, instead of reminding me that he had already explained this concept to me, he would patiently answer my questions. I scored one small victory over the years by getting him to admit that the use of one particular term in NCBE reports was indeed “unfortunate” (his word, not mine). I can’t tell you the term because, while I won the battle that day, I lost the war in that the term remains.

Our friendship blossomed more when one of Mark’s NCBE colleagues tapped the two of us to do a presentation on prosecuting cheating cases at the 2017 Annual Bar Admissions Conference in San Diego. We were both (relatively) serious and straight-laced for this first one—although I did suggest that we dress alike for it. Mark protested (“I don’t look so good in a dress”) but said he was willing to wear a leisure suit. Mark dubbed our second presentation that same year at the CBAA Fall Meeting in Palm Springs “An Encore Performance of the Dog and Pony Show.” I was not too sure if I was the dog or the pony, but I went along with the moniker. When asked to do a third presentation at the 2018 Annual Bar Admissions Conference in Philadelphia, Mark called me and said, “So, they have asked Sonny and Cher to reunite yet again.” After I had to (politely) remind him that Sonny Bono actually had a decent head of hair, he rephrased and said, “So, they have asked Beauty and the Beast to reunite yet again.” I admonished his conceit but agreed that “the beast” would indeed wear her usual animal print outfit for our presentation. In classic Mark humor, he labeled one of his complicated charts in his PowerPoint presentation “Pretty Picture.” It was a truly an honor and a blast to work with Mark on these matters.

Mark did ultimately testify for the New York Board of Law Examiners on another matter. His CV was the largest exhibit in the record (64 pages!!), and he was unshakeable during his testimony.

The candidate who brought us together over a decade ago, by the way, is still attempting to pass the New York bar exam. When I saw this candidate again at the February 2024 exam, I smiled at her and, as I have done every time since 2011, fondly thought of Mark. 

Photo of Christine KenefickChristine Kenefick is the Deputy ­Executive Director for the New York State Board of Law Examiners and 2023–2024 chair of the Council of Bar Admission Administrators.

Contact us to request a pdf file of the original article as it appeared in the print edition.

[apss_share]
  • Bar
    Bar Exam Fundamentals

    Addressing questions from conversations NCBE has had with legal educators about the bar exam.

  • Online
    Online Bar Admission Guide

    Comprehensive information on bar admission requirements in all US jurisdictions.

  • NextGen
    NextGen Bar Exam of the Future

    Visit the NextGen Bar Exam website for the latest news about the bar exam of the future.

  • BarNow
    BarNow Study Aids

    NCBE offers high-quality, affordable study aids in a mobile-friendly eLearning platform.

  • 2023
    2023 Year in Review

    NCBE’s annual publication highlights the work of volunteers and staff in fulfilling its mission.

  • 2022
    2022 Statistics

    Bar examination and admission statistics by jurisdiction, and national data for the MBE and MPRE.