ABA has proposed to omit standardized exams for law schools

In April, the Legal Education Council of the American Bar Association, which recognizes 196 law schools across the United States, proposed eliminating the requirement that recognized schools use the Law School Admission Test or some equivalent “valid and reliable” standardized test in their admissions process. The ABA Council has made it clear that law schools “will be free to take exams if they wish.”

If adopted, the proposal would be effective for law school classes starting in the fall of 2023.

The LSAT is the most widely used assessment for law school admissions, and any aspiring lawyer can prove that a school decision can have a good LSAT score. But as consensus was reached on re-evaluating the role of standardized examinations in other areas of higher education, controversy over its benefits has reached law school admissions. Opinions are sharply divided এবং and emotional on both sides.

Proponents of the change say it will improve diversity and equity in law school enrollment and give institutions the flexibility to experiment with a more holistic admissions policy.

Andrew Cornblatt, dean of Georgetown law admissions, said that if the proposal to repeal the ABA’s standardized test order was approved, he “made every expectation” that the Georgetown test would become optional.

“As a general matter, LSAT is helpful, but it is not a determinant for every applicant,” he said. “I am just happy to be free. I think it’s a real change in the way we work. “

But opponents are concerned that the repeal of a general standard assessment could make it harder for law schools to accept applicants who may be successful during and after their studies.

Kelly Testy, president of the Law School Admissions Council, which designs and manages the LSAT, says the ABA proposal is controversial because the LSAT predicts more school success than other standardized tests, including the SAT — about 10 percent more predictable, according to LSAC data.

“I don’t think we should test on students. I think we should do what works and we know LSAT works, “he said.

According to a 2019 survey by Law School Transparency, a non-profit education advocacy organization, LSAT is a fairly accurate prediction of whether a student will pass the bar exam after graduation. Studies have shown that students who score in the mid-140s and below have a much higher risk of failing at the bar than those who score above 150.

“The LSAT says at least some measure, ‘Can this applicant pass the bar?'” Said Brian Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and its author. Failed law school. “If we are going to take a student’s money, we have to believe that the students will be able to achieve their goals successfully. This will justify the economic investment they are making. “

That investment can be a heavy one; On average, three-year law school tuition costs more than $ 130,000.

Aaron Taylor, executive director of the Excelx Center for Legal Education Excellence, argues that law schools place too much weight on the LSAT’s “predictive value”. He said eliminating the need for standardized testing would be a good “first step” towards encouraging law schools to be more flexible and inclusive in their admissions procedures.

“It’s not a matter of whether it has LSAT standards, because it does. It’s a matter of how valuable it is, and whether it’s consistent with the way it’s used in the admissions process,” he said. [the proposal] As a process to allow law schools to engage in testing and innovation on how they evaluate applicants.

This is not the first time that the ABA has recommended eliminating test requirements In 2018, the association introduced exactly the same amendments, but the proposal was withdrawn after receiving “significant and organized opposition” according to an ABA memo.

At the moment, Taylor says, there is “an overwhelming appetite” for a test-optional policy.

“The epidemic really made people think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it this way,” he said. “Hunger has changed, and to be honest, our country has changed.”

ABA representatives declined to comment on the record of this article.

A test-optional wave riding

The proposal is the latest in a wave of test-optional exams across higher education in recent years, especially since the epidemic has made individual testing difficult. According to a recent survey by the Urban Institute, the number of four-year undergraduate institutions, including exam-optional policy, has nearly doubled since the spring of 2020. Fairtest: A list published by The National Center for Fair and Open Testing shows that by this autumn, more than 75 percent of all college applicants will not have to submit standard test scores.

But the tendency to omit standardized test requirements has been slow to catch up in professional schools.

“At the law school level, it’s a little bit different from undergraduate,” Cornblatt said. “These tests, especially the LSAT, are predictive and ready to measure how students will perform in this particular case once they arrive here.”

In recent years, some institutions have added flexibility to the traditional, LSAT-centric law school admissions process. The University of Arizona Law School became the first to accept the GRE instead of the LSAT in 2016; The following year, more high-profile law schools, including Northwest and Georgetown, did the same. In 2019, the ABA adopted a policy that allows organizations to adopt the GRE as the “equivalent” of the LSAT.

Fair access

Taylor said that while law schools pay too much for the LSAT as a measure of student value, it could lead to less diversification. According to a 2019 survey written by Taylor, only 1,000 out of 1,960 black applicants to law school were admitted in 2016-17, compared to 1,000 for every 1,204 white applicants.

“Law schools often overemphasize LSAT standards and place more weight on exams than fairness,” Taylor said. “The misuse of LSAT as a tool harms people of imperfect backgrounds, whether they are ethnic and racial minorities or people from low socio-economic backgrounds.”

Problems with the LSAT, Taylor said, are similar to the problems raised when discussing SAT standards: it often privileges applicants who can prepare for expensive exams, most of whom are white.

LSAC’s Testy believes the opposite is true: that LSAT is a way for law schools to increase their equity and diversity by keeping applicants on equal footing.

“LSAT is designed to reward potential, not privilege,” he said. “GPA, recommender, what school you went to – these things have more bias than a well-proven test.”

Taylor says he has heard this argument before, but it is not aligned with the data.

“We are not talking about outsiders here. We are not talking about an anecdote of a poor child who passed the test and got a chance, ”he said. “We’re talking about macro images, where you can see thousands of law school applicants, divided through their subgroups – be it racial, ethnic or socio-economic – and see deep inequality.”

Cornblatt said Georgetown’s decision to take the GRE has helped “widen the gardrail” for potential applicants, and since 2019 the law school’s applicant pool has become more diverse across ethnic, socio-economic and educational backgrounds.

“My job is to record an orchestra, not just a violinist. We have a lot of violinists, ”he said. “GRE examinees are playing instruments I’ve never heard of, and they’re adding texture to the class.”

Cornblatt believes that allowing law schools to make exams optional would have a more dramatic effect on the diversity of law school applicants across the country than accepting GRE in Georgetown’s application pool.

“There’s a section of this population who I believe are incredibly talented and they will make great lawyers, but many of them are not applying to law school because exams are a barrier,” Cornblatt said. “It will give students a chance they wouldn’t otherwise get.”

Liability concerns

Tamanaha said her main concern about the ABA’s proposal was that it would remove a measure of accountability for schools and increase their chances of admitting “ineligible” students to maximize their revenue.

“I am not concerned about most of the schools that, given some more flexibility, will still make decisions that will try to identify able-bodied students,” he said. “[But] Schools that are really concerned with maintaining their financial well-being can therefore take advantage of this situation by admitting students who have passed the bar. The decision will be made. “

There are other ways to ensure law schools prepare students for success in the legal profession; For example, ABA’s accreditation standard 316 specifies that institutions must show that at least 75 percent of graduates have passed the bar by the end of the year — or found to be inconsistent.

But if the ABA’s plan focuses more on the results of undergraduate students, Tamanaha says its recent track record is not good. The Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University has been found to be inconsistent with Standard 316 for five consecutive years; Its bar-passage rate has come down from 66 percent in 2017 to 59.5 percent in 2022. Yet last month, the ABA extended the school’s three-year term.

In 2019, Cooley’s median LSAT score was 145 —, a data that shows students are more likely to fail bar exams.

“If the solution can be removed [the testing requirement] The ABA bar-passage standard is not a solution that we can be confident that they do not seem to be implementing it, “said Tamanaha.

Taylor admits, “There are law schools that, by all accounts, contain exploitation in the guise of opportunity.” “But we cannot point to a complete system based on the potential actions of a small group of schools.”

Tamanaha said that in the end, he was not sure what would be better if the LSAT mandate was removed, but the risk of increased student exploitation was obvious.

“To me, the benefits are vague, the requirements are vague, but there is clarity about the potential negative aspects,” Tamanaha said.

For Taylor, the opposite is true: he said the ABA’s proposal, although a “small step”, could only help make legal education more accessible.

“I think there will be law schools that will engage in some rigorous testing and make some sincere efforts to expand access to their degrees. And I certainly don’t think it will hurt the population, “he said. “It’s the opposite of what I see.”

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