By Dominic Fracassa
Published: May 15, 2017
Updated: May 15, 2017 3:26pm

The proportion of prospective attorneys who passed the California bar exam has sunk yet again, according to data released by the State Bar of California on Friday, with just 34.5 percent of test takers making the grade.

Those results mark the worst passage rate for the February edition of the exam in eight years. It could serve as fuel for a growing chorus of critics — including law school deans, legislators and court officials — who are concerned that the state’s stringent minimum threshold needed to pass the test is causing too many would-be lawyers to flunk.

Calls for the State Bar to revisit that threshold, commonly referred to as the “cut score,” have intensified since November, when the bar announced that the passage rate for would-be attorneys who took the exam in July, the only other month when the test is offered, slid to 43 percent — a 32-year low. (Passage rates are almost always higher in July, given the greater volume of recent law school graduates taking the test for the first time.)

California requires a minimum score of 144 out of 200 to pass the exam. Only Delaware’s cut score is higher. By comparison, the cut score for the New York Bar Exam is 133.

On Monday, the State Bar kicked off a comprehensive review of whether the content of the bar exam and the test’s cut score are effectively vetting qualified legal practitioners.

“Regrettably the pass rate shows a continuing decline, a trend happening nationally,” said Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, the State Bar’s executive director, in a statement. “The State Bar is committed to a better understanding of the problem to determine how to address it.”

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