Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Kent Syverud And Dan Rodriguez On The GRE/LSAT Debate

GRELSATKent Syverud (Chancellor and President, Syracuse; former Dean, Vanderilt and Washington University):

I know many of you are being pitched from the Educational Testing Service about the Graduate Record Examination. I worked as a law school dean for sixteen years and was involved with LSAC for much of that time. I am acutely aware of the stress law deans are now under in connection with admissions, including the stress from central administrations of universities.

I write just to make three points as you consider the GRE and LSAT.

First, I have great confidence in LSAC’s new president, Kellye Testy, as someone who is heart and soul driven by the desire to serve the unique needs of law schools in this challenging environment. She is willing to talk with deans not to talk you out of any use of the GRE, but to help you make sure that if you do feel compelled to use the GRE that it is used in a way that is not ultimately going to hurt you and all of legal education in the process. I know she is determined to help each school and to broaden the pipeline of applicants into law schools. She was a leader is this effort as a law dean, and she is bringing that attitude to the Law School Admission Council.

Second, LSAC came into existence, I believe, in part because of the challenges of getting large testing organizations, driven by undergraduate admissions and Ph.D. programs, to pay sustained attention to the unique needs of law schools. Over many years, LSAC developed products and services for law schools that met these needs, and that remain the envy of many professional disciplines. These products and services were helpful to the autonomy of law schools, including during periodic efforts to centralize many activities.

Finally, I fear it is unlikely that LSAC will be able to continue to provide many of the services and support that are currently free to all schools – including data, software, and professional development services – if a significant number of schools deemphasize the LSAT. At least when I was a dean, the annual cost of those services and support to schools was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and would have been challenging for me to replace out of my budget.

I encourage you to discuss these issues with Kellye Testy directly before making any decisions.

Daniel B. Rodriguez (Dean, Northwestern):

Like everyone else on this list, I am grateful for the wise input and perspective of Kent, who has served legal education with consummate skill and integrity for so many years and higher education for every longer.

Yet, I find this email somewhat inapt to the evolving discussions and actions by many law schools, including those who have resolved to accept the GRE, those who are actively considering this, and others who are content to wait and see.

More specifically:

  • The choice to consider the GRE does not evince an intention to “deemphasize” the LSAT. This is true only in the very narrow sense that permission to consider an alternative test disrupts what is otherwise a monopoly. Now there is another pathway (assuming, to be sure, permission by the ABA). Where the LSAT had a monopoly, there were no other choices by the students or by the law school. Each law school will make its individualized choice about best to consider GRE or LSAT scores (or, who knows, perhaps an alternative test altogether)
  • This trend is no more the product of ETS lobbying than the decision by schools to keep just to the LSAT is the product of LSAC lobbying. Both ETS and LSAC are serving the cause of improving testing and the admissions process through the development of further information, transparently and rigorously. The trope that ETS is the villain and LSAC the hero, one implication, hopefully unintended by Kent, is not helpful;
  • No one more than me values the extraordinary leadership of Kellye Testy and her great work in LSAC to provide services and support. As an organization supported in so many ways by law schools and the collective of deans, I think we can trust that these commitments will continue. To be sure, LSAC may well need to reevaluate their business model if the revenue from the LSAT suffers – and who among us have not had to make our own reassessments in our law schools in this new normal? But I hope the import of Kent’s note is not this: If too many law schools embrace the GRE as an alternative test, we are going to see LSAC support wither away. I have certainly never heard that argument made by Kellye and surfacing this in a way that could be read as ominous is, again, not very helpful.

So, with great respect and appreciation for Kent’s input into this important debate, I hope that law deans will continue to make their own assessments about testing and applicant screening. The steady growth in the number of so-called GRE schools is neither a bandwagon nor a conspiracy; rather, it is an experiment, congruent with the call for greater innovation in how we assess and educate our students.

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Interesting debate. A Swiftian proposal: allow the SAT scores. They probably have just as much predictive power for success on the bar since what is being gauged is the ability to take a test.

Two non-Swiftian points.

First, there is a danger of a race to the bottom as the two test providers compete for test-takers, cauding the value of the test to go down. Law schools may be hoping for a race to the top as the two companies vie to create the more rigorous and predictive test.

Second, the best argument in favor of an option is to make it easier for people in non-law careers to apply to law school. That strikes me as a win-win situation, at leadt in the short run.

Posted by: Shubha Ghosh | Dec 15, 2017 2:13:36 PM

Wait a minute. What was my fee for taking the LSAT going to? It's not just to pay for the LSAT, but to pay for other services to law schools also?
On a different note, has any research been done about the correlation between GRE and law school GPA? Or IQ and LSAT score, GRE, or law school GPA?

Posted by: brad | Dec 14, 2017 12:14:36 PM

There is virtually no difference in what the GRE and LSAT measure. Why have two tests?

Posted by: ohwilleke | Dec 13, 2017 8:51:07 PM

One may be reminded of Brian Tamanaha's piece in Balkinization some years ago about how, even though LSAC was a non-profit organization sitting on $170 million in cash and securities and pulling in more than $50 million per year in revenue, announced they were increasing the test fee and application fee by some 15%, for reasons that were not forthcoming. I remember it because I still get email notifications about junk posts in the comments thread all these years later.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 13, 2017 5:46:50 PM

LSAC should set up a little meeting with U.S. News to show them how to convert GRE scores into LSAT scores and factor them into their rankings.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 13, 2017 5:46:24 PM

I actually think that it should be the gmat that is also approved for law school. I can tell you that my daughter spent extensive time studying for the gmat and then at the end thought that maybe she would prefer to go to law school. She is only being held back for lack of the lsat.

Posted by: Gary Brown | Dec 13, 2017 4:48:20 PM