This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Winter 2023-2024 (Vol. 92, No. 4), pp. 3–4.By Judith A. Gundersen

Portrait Photo of Judith A. GundersenReporting on a Successful NextGen Field Test and Remembering Mark Albanese, PhD

As we welcome a new year, we’ve had plenty of NextGen news to share: as I’m writing this, 17 jurisdictions have adopted the NextGen exam. We also announced that Surpass Assessment will deliver the exam via candidates’ laptops. Our field test in late January was a success, with over 4,000 candidates at 88 law schools throughout the country participating and answering multiple-choice questions, performance tasks, and integrated question sets.

The performance tasks and the constructed-­response parts of the integrated question sets, of course, require consistent, correct, and fair grading. About 60 jurisdiction graders reviewed the field test answers during the second and third weeks of February. You might wonder how NCBE’s team of lawyer/editor/grading trainers develop, refine, and apply grading rubrics for these portions of the question sets and how they then train graders to use the rubrics. Short answer? It’s complicated and time-consuming, requiring hundreds of hours of work by our staff to prepare and vet the rubrics and refine the grading process.

I saw firsthand how much care and effort went into preparing jurisdiction graders for their work after the field test. Over a dozen members of our grading and development team converged in Madison the first week in February (it was warm and sunny!) to develop and fine-tune the rubrics, identify benchmark papers at each score level and validity papers (all graders agree on these grades), and prepare “how-to” videos for graders. We then shared this information plus the actual test questions and field test answers with graders. We are very excited to share more information about the grading process in an upcoming Bar Examiner issue.

We also strive to establish and maintain direct lines of communication with Courts about NextGen developments. To that end, we continue to hold regular meetings and Q&A sessions with Court members and undertake individual Court visits. We are grateful for these opportunities to give NextGen updates and to answer questions. We remain in regular communication with bar admission administrators as well.

Test development forges ahead on all fronts, including the current UBE and MPRE programs. Drafters who write items for both programs are key to the quality of the current bar exam, and many drafters will transition to work on the NextGen exam as the current UBE sunsets with the February 2028 exam. We are forever grateful to all the drafters—­judges, practitioners, and law school faculty members and deans who give their time and talents to licensure work.

Also in February, during unseasonably mild temperatures and the steady disappearance of ice shanties on Lake Monona across from NCBE headquarters, we worked with jurisdictions to ensure a secure and smooth February bar exam administration. Part of preparing for each bar exam involves shipping exam booklets to jurisdictions. This is one tradition—shipping week—that I think our Test Operations staff will be happy to leave behind as we transition to an all-digital exam, as it requires many people to constantly monitor and update thousands of sets of physical exam materials.

I close by noting the passing of Dr. Mark Albanese, our longtime Director of Testing and Research. Mark passed away on December 31, 2023. Several of Mark’s colleagues, myself included, have contributed to this issue to remember him and the contributions he made to NCBE and the greater bar admissions community (see the tributes here). Our deepest sympathy to Aggie, his widow, and to their children and grandchildren. Mark was a treasured colleague, mentor, fitness nut, researcher, and hands-on director. He leaves a large legacy here at NCBE.

Until the next issue,

Signature of Judy Gundersen

Judith A. Gundersen

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

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