National: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, jurisdictions around the country have moved their in-person bar exam to an online remote format. The online exam format places significant restrictions on examinees in ways that in-person exam administration does not. Some of the troubling policies that the NDLSA has been made aware of include restrictions on scrap paper, ear plugs, extraneous noise, presence of other individuals or pets, looking away from the computer, leaving the frame of the camera during the examination, and fidgeting and/or touching the face. Some jurisdictions are requiring accommodated test takers to test in person.
Between July 24th and July 28th, the NDLSA received responses from 281 examinees in 26 jurisdictions regarding accessibility concerns related to online examinations– approximately 50% of respondents are disabled. These responses demonstrate that the online bar examination and its accompanying restrictions will disparately impact and disadvantage people with disabilities, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and people who are pregnant, nursing, or menstruating.
Respondents raised concerns both about their ability to perform on the online exam and about the possibility that their environment or actions would be flagged for cheating. Respondents also raised concerns regarding bias, privacy, and security due to the proctoring software. The most commonly referenced concern by respondents was the ability to secure a testing location that was free of any “ambient” noise. Other common concerns cited by respondents included internet instability, limited bathroom access, presence of co-habitants or pets, and mental health.
Some state bar organizations recognize that the online monitoring software causes untenable challenges and have moved to open book formats to alleviate candidate concerns (e.g. Indiana, Nevada). Unfortunately, most other jurisdictions remain committed to plowing through an online administration despite the access and equity crisis.