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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Taylor:  The GRE Is No Law School Diversity Tool

GREAaron N. Taylor (Saint Louis; Director, Law School Survey of Student Engagement), The GRE Is No Diversity Tool:

In February, the University of Arizona College of Law announced that applicants for admission could submit Graduate Record Exam scores, in lieu of scores from the Law School Admission Test. The announcement made waves because for decades LSAT scores have been a requirement for law-school candidates.

The ABA, the primary accreditor of law schools, requires law schools to use a “valid and reliable admission test” to aid in selecting students. However, no particular test is stipulated. Arizona argues that the GRE is as good a predictor for law school success as the LSAT, which may be true.

But what is interesting, and perhaps disingenuous, is the school’s claim that accepting GRE scores will promote student-body diversity “in all its forms.” This is because if the GRE is misused in the same manner as the LSAT, the admissions process will remain inequitable, at the expense of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.

The LSAT is designed to be a partial predictor of first-year performance in law school. Data from the Law School Admission Council show that the test predicts about 36 percent of the variance in first-year grades. This means that almost two-thirds of the variance is predicted by other factors. Similarly, in a recent study, a 6-point score difference between two LSAT scores accounted for only a 0.1 difference in law school grade point average. These data demonstrate that the outsized role the LSAT plays in influencing which law school a student attends and how much that student pays is unjustified.

Overreliance on the LSAT has a tangible and harmful effect on diversity in legal education. The average score for black LSAT-takers is 142 — 11 points lower than the average of 153 among white and Asian test-takers. ...

Even more disturbing, in a study I conducted on enrollment trends, I found increasing racial and ethnic stratification in legal education. ... Moreover, data from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement suggest LSAT-driven scholarship policies are contributing to increasing disparities in student debt. ...

The GRE shares two troubling similarities with the LSAT: score trends are typified by racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities, and schools often misuse the test in the admissions process. ...

If law schools were truly interested in fostering diversity in all its forms, they would fundamentally alter the manner in which they use admissions tests, not merely tinker with the tests they misuse. ... Merely allowing law-school applicants to submit GRE scores might be a boon for some law schools, in the form of more applications. It might be a boon for the Educational Testing Service. It might even be a boon for applicants who score highly. But it will not be a boon for racial, ethnic or socioeconomic diversity.

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Except for very rare occasions, all NRM admitees will have test scores below (or well below) the 25% benchmark for the class. Thus, their scores are never part of the school's public record, and schools could disregard the scores entirely in the admissions process. To the extent the schools use these tests for URM, it is probably to exclude those who have no realistic chance of success in class or on the bar exam.

Schools will never abandon standardized testing as a tool to identify truly gifted students from the vast sea of mediocre applicants in a grade-inflated world.

Posted by: JM | Jun 16, 2016 1:02:41 PM