Council President Dan Bernstine said in a written statement on Oct. 11 that the organization was examining whether it could confirm the figures in a “meaningful way.” The council administers the LSAT and maintains a central database that includes each law school applicant’s undergraduate GPA.
“We are working to determine whether we can set up procedures through which we would be able to confirm school-reported LSAT scores and [undergraduate GPAs] in a reliable and responsible way,” Bernstine said. “Unfortunately, this is going to take some time.”
The council does not plan to confirm the credentials for this year’s incoming law classes, which the law schools must report to the ABA by the end of October, but it might perform that function in the future, Bernstine said.
The council’s willingness to involve itself in auditing law school-reported statistics was a reversal of its earlier position. Last month, Bernstine told The National Law Journal that policing the data was not the council’s proper function and was not something the organization — which is made up of member schools — was interested in doing.
“That’s just not something we have done historically, and I don’t see why we would,” Bernstine said at the time. “We’re not in the reporting business. We don’t distinguish between our members.”
In his Oct. 11 statement, Bernstine said the council was acting out of concern “about recent developments involving the reporting” of law student data. Additionally, some law schools have asked the council to take an auditing role, he said, and several admissions officials have told the NLJ that they suspected other schools of fudging numbers.
In a recent post on the legal blog Balkinization, Washington University in St. Louis School of Law professor Brian Tamanaha wrote that the council could “blow the lid off this tomorrow” by verifying reported LSAT scores. “LSAC apparently views its primary loyalty as properly oriented toward law schools — that is, toward protecting its constituent members,” he wrote.
The organization has come under increased pressure to audit the law school figures in light of two separate scandals. In February, Villanova University School of Law acknowledged reporting inaccurate LSAT scores and GPAs to the ABA since at least 2002. In late September, an internal investigation at the University of Illinois found that the law school had goosed the credentials of its incoming classes from 2008 to 2010.
“I think this pressure is coming from the admissions offices,” said Kyle McEntee, a co-founder of Tennessee nonprofit organization Law School Transparency, which advocates for better consumer information for potential law students. “I’ve spoken with people at a number of admissions offices and they are concerned about all the misreporting. I get the sense that they’ve been feeling helpless, so this is a good thing.”
McEntee said that the council should go beyond auditing the data reported by law schools. It should go back and audit all the numbers they have been reported for the past 10 years to uncover any longstanding problems, he said.
Bernstine cautioned that auditing the numbers is easier said than done. For one thing, some law schools have small pilot programs under which they admit students who have not taken the LSAT, which would skew the results. Secondly, the council relies on information from the law schools about the students they admit; any audit would rely on that self-reported information.
“If we provided some sort of auditing statement, it would confirm only that the school’s reported numbers are accurate for the students the school tells us are at the school,” Bernstine said. “We are concerned, first, that this would not be a useful confirmation and, second, that people might misinterpret it to mean more than it really does.”
The primary motivation law schools have to be misleading about the test scores is the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings, since those figures weigh heavily in each school’s score.
Bob Morse, director of data research at U.S. News, said the magazine would enthusiastically welcome any auditing by the council. “US News as a data user and publisher would strongly be in favor of such a plan as one swift way to restore law school integrity in this area,” Morse said. “Since the LSAC has the power and the data to do this, it could bring instant and definitely needed credibility to LSATs and GPAs reported by schools — the two most visible and important admission data points that have been the subject of painful disclosures in both the Villanova and [University of Illinois] cases in 2011.”
Karen Sloan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.