October 14, 2020

Examining the California Cut Score: An Empirical Analysis of Minimum Competency, Public Protection, Disparate Impact, and National Standards

Race and Ethnicity Findings

As part of the study, a simulation analysis using actual examinee scores confirmed that selecting a lower cut score would have significantly narrowed the achievement gap between Whites and racial and ethnic minorities and would have increased the number of newly admitted minority attorneys in California. Using a simulation of cut scores at 1440, 1390, 1350, 1330, and 1300, the examinee scores over an 11-year period suggest that the previous California cut score of 1440 and current cut score of 1390 result in a greater racial disparity in those admitted to the legal profession when compared to the national median cut score of 1350, New York’s cut score of 1330, and the lowest score used by multiple states, 1300.

At 1390, California’s recently reduced cut score, the number of examinees eventually passing the California Bar Exam would have increased by 3,760 examinees. Of these examinees, 1,675 would have been attorneys of color; 294 additional Black attorneys, 501 additional Hispanic/Latinx attorneys, and 880 additional Asian attorneys. At 1350, the median national cut score, the number of examinees eventually passing the exam would have increased by 8,734. Of these examinees, 3,876 would have been attorneys of color: 753 additional Black attorneys, 1,162 additional Hispanic/Latinx attorneys, and 1,961 additional Asian attorneys. At 1330, New York’s cut score, the number of examinees eventually passing the exam would have increased by 10,564 and California would have had an additional 4,665 attorneys of color: 912 additional Black attorneys, 1,379 additional Hispanic/Latinx attorneys, and 2,374 additional Asian attorneys. At 1300, the lowest cut score used by multiple states, the number of examinees eventually passing would have increased by 12,907 and an additional 5,793 attorneys of color would have joined the legal profession: 1,154 additional Black attorneys, 1,709 additional Hispanic/Latinx attorneys, and 2,930 additional Asian attorneys.


Read the full study-

AccessLex Resource Collection Link:   http://arc.accesslex.org/grantee/56/

SSRN Research Paper Link:    http://ssrn.com/abstract=3707812

Study Advisory Committee

The research team was supported by a distinguished national advisory board that included: Joan Howarth, Dean Emerita, Michigan State University College of Law and Distinguished Visiting Professor, University of Las Vegas, William Boyd S. School of Law; Kevin Marshall, Dean, University of LaVerne College of Law; Joanna Mendoza, attorney and former member, State Bar of California Board of Trustees;  Jennifer Mnookin, Dean and Ralph & Shirley Shapiro Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law; Jerry Organ, Professor of Law, University of St. Thomas School of Law; Christopher Punongbayan, Executive Director, California ChangeLawyers; Daniel Rodriguez, Harold Washington Professor of Law, former Dean, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law; and Professor Gary S. Rosin, South Texas College of Law.



Mitchel L. Winick, President and Dean
Monterey College of Law


Victor D. Quintanilla, Professor of Law 
Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Co-Director, Center for Law, Society & Culture


Sam Erman, Professor of Law 
USC Gould School of Law


Christina Chong-Nakatsuchi, Professor of Law 
Monterey College of Law