Soon every law school in the country will be turning its attention to the important topic of assessment. Responding to a new ABA guideline, schools will be tackling the difficult task of defining, refining, and creating more assessment opportunities for their students. The guideline’s purpose is to improve student learning through more assessment, but nothing in the ABA proposal changes the fact that many of our students fail to react adaptively to feedback. Instead, many students will become hostile, defensive, or despondent, and will therefore not further develop their competencies.
With the American Bar Association putting emphasis on formative assessment and outcomes, legal educators must attempt to understand what causes students’ varied responses to critical feedback: students’ beliefs about intelligence. Students who believe that intelligence can grow through strategic effort respond to feedback by increasing their efforts or changing their strategies. But students who see intelligence as a fixed trait do not.
This paper demonstrates that no matter how thoughtful the feedback, or how frequent the assessments, those with a fixed mindset will respond in maladaptive ways. The ABA’s proposed guideline might be putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Students’ mindsets should be the starting point for legal scholars and educators who advocate different approaches to feedback. Current recommendations regarding assessments in law school get ahead of themselves and miss the starting point. That is, developing an incremental mindset in law students so that feedback has its intended effect of improving performance and outcomes.