An organization of law professors want LSAT scores dropped from U.S. News & World Report's ranking formula, and it hopes deans and law schools will be the ones to pull the plug.
The Society of American Law Teachers has urged law schools to stop providing U.S. News with their incoming students' LSAT scores on the theory that the immense pressure to snag incoming students with high scores is making it harder to admit diverse classes. The median LSAT scores of the entering class accounts for 12.5 percent of each law school's U.S. News score -- a greater weight than the magazine gives to average grade point average or acceptance rate.
"Admissions officers from around the country consistently report that the rankings constrain their ability to accept deserving and otherwise qualified students with relatively low LSAT scores," SALT said in a written statement (pdf) on Friday. "Instead of admitting students with promising undergraduate records and diverse life experiences, these admissions officers must all too often strategically choose the students whose LSAT scores help to maintain or improve a school's ranking."
SALT's focus on the U.S. News ranking is misplaced, said Robert Morse, director of data research at the magazine.
"U.S. News does not sit in any law school admissions offices, U.S. News does not set admissions standards and U.S. News did not decide that LSAT scores are required for law school admission," he said. He added that SALT has not contacted him directly to discuss the matter.
As long as the American Bar Association requires the LSAT, it would be difficult to remove that statistic from the formula, Morse said.
While the U.S. News rankings have plenty of critics in legal education, it isn't realistic to ask law schools to boycott them altogether, said Andi Curcio, chairwoman of SALT's legal education committee and a professor at Georgia State University College of Law. Individual deans have called for boycotts, but there has been no widespread movement. SALT's members believe that taking LSAT scores out of the mix is an achievable goal that will have a real effect in terms of diversifying classes, Curcio said. The group hopes to work with the ABA to devise a strategy to withhold LSAT score data.
"Deans, and to some extent faculty, feel compelled to play the game because of the effects of the rankings on their schools," Curcio said. "SALT's idea is the pragmatic approach to dealing with the problem of the U.S. News rankings. This will allow law schools more freedom to admit a broader array of candidates."
SALT executive director Hazel Weiser said the organization has not yet received much reaction from members on its proposal.
LSAT scores are the single most important indicator of whether an applicant will be admitted to a particular school, Morse said, so it doesn't make sense to drop them from the rankings formula. They also are standardized, making them a good resource for apples-to-apples comparisons, unlike grades point averages.
"[SALT] contends that law schools manage their scores because of our ranking, and that the median score inhibits them from taking students whose profile is on a lower level than their standard," Morse said. "I'm saying that if they understood the median, they would see that's not the case."
If U.S. News factored in the average LSAT score of an entering class, schools would be penalized more harshly for accepting students with low LSAT scores. By using the median, however, schools can admit students with significantly lower LSAT scores without lowering their ranking, as long as they admit the same number of students with scores above the median, Morse said.
SALT is not the only group that has criticized the reliance on LSAT scores by U.S. News. A recent study by sociologists Wendy Espeland of Northwestern University and Michael Sauder of the University of Iowa concluded that the rankings make it harder for law schools to achieve diversity on campus. An ABA report on diversity released in April recommended that law schools "de-emphasize national U.S. News and World Report rankings because of the adverse impact upon applicants of color." In February, the ABA's House of Delegates voted to examine the magazine's methods, although Morse said he has not been contacted by the ABA yet.
Even if law schools and deans decided not to report LSAT scores to U.S. News, the data could still be used in the rankings. Both the ABA and the Law School Admissions Council report LSAT scores at individual schools, although that information becomes available after U.S. News compiles its rankings. The magazine uses the previous year's LSAT scores for the handful of schools that don't participate in its survey. LSAT scores tend not to fluctuate much from year to year, Morse said, and U.S. News could use the previous year's data if schools withhold them.
"I just can't see how that's going to get anywhere, as far as making data for a required test not available to the public," he said.
Removing LSAT scores from the formula won't erase all the problems the rankings create, but it would be a step in the right direction, Curcio insisted. Even lowering the weight of LSAT scores in the formula would help, she said.
"In an ideal world, we wouldn't have U.S. News at all, but we don't live in that world," she said.
Alfredo Garcia, the dean of St. Thomas University School of Law, said it would be difficult to get all the the nation's law schools to boycott the rankings. Garcia boycotted the U.S. News reputation survey this year and received mixed reactions from his fellow deans. The rankings "are such a big part of the culture that I seriously doubt a lot of people will stonewall them," Garcia said.