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Newspaper Says Bar Exam Grade Changes
Helped New Law School

South Carolina's newest law school may have benefited from the grading change on bar exams made earlier this year by the state Supreme Court.

The changed grades put Charleston School of Law closer to a 70 percent passing rate - a key measure used by the American Bar Association in accrediting law schools - according to a newspaper's analysis of the grades.

The Charleston school opened in 2004 and is operating under a provisional accreditation. The school is working toward full accreditation. One measure used by the ABA is how many of a school's students pass the bar exam.

Before the grades on this summer's exam were changed, Charleston's passing rate was 65.1 percent. After the change, it was 69.9 percent, The (Columbia) State newspaper reported Sunday.

Charleston Law School officials and Supreme Court justices say the school's passing rate had nothing to do with the grade changes.

"Nobody did anything for the Charleston School of Law," said Alex Sanders, a former Appeals Court judge and chairman of the law school. Sanders said the school knew nothing about the score changes until after it happened.

One improperly recorded score led the state Supreme Court to throw out an entire section of last summer's bar exam and change 20 grades from failing to passing. Those benefiting from the decision included the daughters of a lawmaker and judge.

"The state of the Charleston school had absolutely no impact on the decision we made," Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal told the newspaper. "Our decision was without any information on the identities of the examinees by way of their name or ... their school."

Eight of the 20 whose grades were changed were Charleston law school grads.

"The Charleston School of Law, from my personal view, didn't enter my mind," Supreme Court Justice Costa Pleicones said Friday. "It was probably the furthest thing from my mind."

Although the American Bar Association doesn't have a written required passage rate, a minimum 70 percent passage rate has been a "rule of thumb" used for years, said Bucky Askew, the ABA's consultant on legal education.

Askew said a below 70 percent passing rate would not necessarily keep a school from being accredited, but American Bar Association spokeswoman Nancy Slonim said last week the U.S. Education Department has been pushing the association to come up with a standard on passage rates.

A decision about the Charleston School of Law's full accreditation won't come until after the American Bar Association visits the school next fall.