Paul L. Caron

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The ABA Proposes Eliminating Standardized Tests For Law School Admissions

Following up on my previous post, ABA Council Votes 20-1 To Advance Proposal Permitting Law Schools To Go Test Optional. What Are The Implications Of Admitting Students Who Don't Take The LSAT Or GRE?:  Inside Higher Ed, The ABA Proposes Eliminating Standardized Tests For Law School Admissions:

ABA Legal Ed (2021)The leading law school accreditor has proposed eliminating the standardized test requirement for admissions. Proponents argue it would increase diversity, but detractors fear a loss of accountability.

In April, the American Bar Association’s Council on Legal Education, which accredits 196 law schools across the U.S., proposed eliminating a requirement that accredited schools use the Law School Admission Test or some equivalent “valid and reliable” standardized test in their admissions process. The ABA council clarified that law schools “would remain free to require a test if they wish.”

If accepted, the proposal would take effect for law school classes beginning in fall 2023.

The LSAT is by far the most widely used assessment for law school admissions, and any aspiring lawyer can attest to the weight a good LSAT score can have on a school’s decision. But as consensus builds for a re-evaluation of the role of standardized testing in other areas of higher education, the debate over its benefits has reached law school admissions. Opinion is sharply divided—and impassioned on both sides.

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

Andrew Cornblatt, the dean of admissions at Georgetown Law, said that if the ABA’s proposal to eliminate the standardized test mandate is approved, he has “every expectation” that Georgetown would become test optional.

“As a general matter, the LSAT is helpful, but it’s not determinative for every applicant,” he said. “I’m excited about this. I think it’s a real change in the way we’ve done things.”

Kellye Testy, president of the Law School Admission Council, which designs and administers the LSAT, said the ABA’s proposal is controversial because the LSAT is more predictive of success in school than other standardized tests, including the SAT—almost 10 percent more predictive, according to LSAC data. ...

“I don’t think we should experiment on students. I think we should do what works, and we know the LSAT works,” she said. ...

“The LSAT is at least some measure saying, ‘Is this applicant likely to pass the bar?’” said Brian Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Failing Law Schools. “If we’re going to take a student’s money, we have to believe that student can successfully achieve their goals. That will justify the economic investment they’re making.” ...

Aaron Taylor, executive director of AccessLex’s center for legal education excellence, argues that law schools assign too much weight to the LSAT’s “predictive value.” He said eliminating the standardized test requirement would be a good “first step” toward encouraging law schools to be more flexible and holistic in their approach to admissions.

“This is not a matter of whether the LSAT has value, because it does. It’s a matter of how much value it has, and whether the way it’s used in the admissions process aligns with that,” he said. “I see [the proposal] as a mechanism to allow law schools to engage in experimentation and innovation in how they evaluate applicants.” ...

Tamanaha said his main concern about the ABA’s proposal is that it would remove a measure of accountability for schools and make them more likely to admit “unqualified” students in order to maximize their revenue.

“I’m not concerned about the vast majority of schools, which, given some more flexibility, will still make decisions that try to identify capable students,” he said. “[But] schools that are really about maintaining their economic solvency more so than admitting students who will pass the bar can take advantage of this situation … it will provide them with a way to dig deep into the pool for applicants who otherwise, if there were a concrete qualitative measure like the LSAT, would be a problematic decision.”

There are other means of ensuring law schools prepare students for success in the legal profession; for example, the ABA’s accreditation standard 316 specifies that institutions must show that at least 75 percent of graduates ultimately pass the bar—or be found noncompliant.

But if the ABA’s plan is to focus more on student outcomes postgraduation, Tamanaha says its recent track record doesn’t bode well. Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School has been found noncompliant with standard 316 for five years in a row; its bar-passage rate fell from 66 percent in 2017 to 59.5 percent in 2022. Yet last month, the ABA granted a three-year extension to the school

Cooley’s median LSAT score in 2019 was 145—about the threshold where data show students are more likely to fail the bar exam.

“If the solution to removing [the testing requirement] is the ABA bar-passage standard, that solution isn’t one we can be confident in given that they don’t appear to be enforcing it,” Tamanaha said.

“There have been law schools that have, by all indications, couched exploitation in the guise of opportunity,” Taylor conceded. “But we can’t dictate an entire system based on the possible actions of a small group of schools.”

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

(Hat Tip: Pete Wentz)

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