Paul L. Caron

Thursday, August 18, 2022

It’s Time To Repeal The ABA’s Law School Testing Mandate

Bloomberg Law Op-Ed:  It’s Time to Repeal the ABA’s Law School Testing Mandate, Christopher T. Robertson (Boston University), Marc L. Miller (Arizona),  Robert A. Williams Jr. (Arizona) &  John K. Pierre (Southern):

ABA Legal Ed (2021)Law schools should be free to individualize admission criteria, argue two law school deans, a chancellor, and a law professor. They call on the ABA to repeal the requirement that applicants for J.D. programs submit standardized test scores for admission.

The American Bar Association Council on Legal Education is moving toward an outcome-based model of accreditation. This aligns with a broader reorientation in educational oversight across many fields.

When properly tailored to local circumstances, metrics such as retention, bar passage, and employment hold law schools accountable for achieving their missions of educating future lawyers. Accreditors then encourage schools to innovate and distinguish themselves in how they achieve these and other goals.

As part of this focus on outcomes, the ABA council has called for public comments on whether to repeal Standard 503, which requires almost all applicants for J.D. programs to submit standardized test scores. The standard has been in effect for more than 50 years.

Test scores measure one dimension of incoming students, before they even begin law school. This backward-looking factor does not measure how well a school achieves its mission of educating students and launching their careers in law.

The 503-testing mandate has reinforced a cramped view of legal excellence. The LSAT and the GRE have been validated based on their ability to predict first-year grades, but are not known to predict other important attributes of great lawyers. These include counseling, judgment, community engagement, empathy, compassion, tolerance, leadership, teamwork, organization, entrepreneurship, strategy, initiative, and grit, to name a few.

Even if first-year grades defined legal excellence, study after study finds that the LSAT and GRE tests predict less than half of the variation in first-year grades. Nonetheless, schools presently feel forced to give test scores excessive weight in admissions decisions because of their role in law school rankings.

The ABA testing mandate facilitates this harmful distortion, which cuts against other important priorities, misleads prospective students searching for quality and value, and does not advance the legitimate goals of an educational accreditor. ...

Outcomes, innovation, and inclusion: these are powerful reasons to move beyond the current testing mandate. We can do better.

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