New curriculum at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa is beginning to pay off with significantly more students passing California's bar exam, school officials announced Thursday.
In July 2012, 99 out of 141 first-time test takers from Whittier passed. That 70% is compared to 56% in 2011 and 54% in 2010.
This year represented the highest passage rate since 2008.
According to the State Bar of California, the average pass rate for first-time test takers who graduated from American Bar Assn.-approved schools like Whittier was 77%. The overall pass rate was 55%.
Whittier improved by analyzing where its students needed help on the test, said Tina Schindler, director of bar preparation at Whittier.
"We saw that our students struggled the most in the multiple-choice portion," she said. "So we needed to do something about that."
The 2012 class was the first to take a third-year legal-analysis class that focused on multiple-choice tests as well as essays.
"We have completely revamped the curriculum," said Judy DeVine, spokeswoman for Whittier.
Three years ago, Dean Penelope Bryan took the helm at Whittier. DeVine said the changes made under her watch are largely responsible for the improved scores.
"We're really on a very upward trend," she said.
The state bar hasn't yet released school-by-school results for the 2012 exam, but two other Orange County institutions announced their results.
Chapman University School of Law's pass rate for first-time test takers was 82%, the highest in its history, said spokesman David Finley. That's up from 79% in 2011 and 70% in 2010.
Finley said the school is confident that score will rank among elite schools. In 2011 the top 10 rates ranged from 91% to 77%.
UC Irvine School of Law announced the pass rate for its first graduating class was 90%.