Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Following up on last week's post, UC-Berkeley: Testing for Empathy as an LSAT Alternative?: Today's Inside Higher Ed: Building a Better Admissions Test, by Scott Jaschik:
Most standardized admissions tests — from the SAT and ACT to those used for admission to graduate and professional schools, such as the Law School Admission Test — promise one thing: to predict academic success in the first year enrolled. Most standardized tests also face growing skepticism because white and Asian students tend to outperform, on average, black and Latino students.
What if a standardized test managed to predict much more than first-year success? And what if there existed the possibility of having standardized tests that didn’t have ethnic or racial gaps, but better predicted long-term success?
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have been engaged in a long-term research project to produce such tests for use in its law school — and they think they have a model that does those things exactly: predicts success as a lawyer (not just as a first-year student) and finds success across demographic groups. Given that law schools exist to produce lawyers, not first-year law students, Berkeley officials think their findings are significant and they are now releasing them for public view and — they hope — for testing on a national scale.
While Berkeley is at this time calling for more research and not an abandonment of traditional admissions processes, the report it has released suggests that the time is ripe for a major reconsideration of how law students are admitted.
“Rising numbers of law school applicants, concern over litigation and preoccupation with school rankings have pushed overemphasis on the LSAT to the breaking point,” says the Berkeley report. “Definitions of ‘merit’ and ‘qualification’ have become too narrow and static; they hamper legal education’s goal of producing diverse, talented and balanced generations of law graduates who will serve the many mandates and constituencies of the legal profession. New predictors combined with existing LSAT measures could extend from prediction of law school success to prediction of professional effectiveness in law school admissions.”
The Berkeley experiment involved a large-scale effort to identify the qualities that make good lawyers, and then to compare the correlation between scores on the Law School Admission Test as well as alternative measures that could be used for admission to later success as a lawyer. The alternative measures are a range of biographical, personality and “situational judgment” tests. What the researchers found was that while the LSAT correlates with first-year grades, as promised, it doesn’t correlate with later success as a lawyer. Combinations of the other tests do correlate with success as a lawyer, as defined by having various qualities of success measured in the study, and without racial and ethnic gaps. ...
“To admit primarily on the basis of LSAT test scores and grades to a professional field that has great importance to our society, seemed short-sighted,” the report on the new research says. “Lawyering requires a variety of talents and skills beyond those represented in these important, but limited, measures. Over subsequent years, the emphasis on the LSAT plus grades has actually grown with the advent of such highly publicized rankings as the U.S. News & World Report for whom entering class median LSAT scores are a key factor. These trends were playing out against a desire on the part of law schools to train a diverse population of legal practitioners, a goal that overemphasis on purely cognitive measures suppressed.”