The American Bar Association’s decision Monday to table the elimination of its LSAT requirement might slow the tide of law schools using the GRE and other alternative tests in admissions, but it won’t stop it.
That’s the consensus from deans who backed the unsuccessful proposal to drop the LSAT requirement. The controversial proposed change to the law school accreditation standards was slated for consideration by the ABA’s House of Delegates at its annual meeting in Chicago, but the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, which oversees law school accreditation, withdrew the resolution at the last minute, citing opposition from some delegates. The council was divided on the matter when it voted in May to push forward and will now determine whether to try again.
Marc Miller, dean of the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, said Tuesday that he predicted 100 additional law schools would accept the GRE in the coming year had the ABA eliminated the current rule, which requires schools to use a “valid and reliable” test in admissions, with the LSAT being the only test to automatically fit the bill. In light of the ABA’s inaction, Miller said he now expects only about 20 law schools to join the 23 that are already accepting GRE scores alongside LSAT scores. Arizona kicked off the GRE movement when it started accepting the test in 2016. The move toward the GRE gained momentum the following year when Harvard Law School announced that it too would accept scores from the admissions exam used by most graduate programs outside law and medicine. (Many business schools now accept both GMAT and GRE scores.)
“I’m not shocked, but I’m disappointed,” Miller said. “Reform is hard. Even modest reform. This wasn’t revolutionary. It would have brought law in line with business and medicine. I’m disappointed, but I look forward to understanding more about what the concerns are and talking about how to address them.”
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Dan Rodriguez, the outgoing dean of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, which also accepts the GRE, said the withdrawal of the proposal to eliminate the LSAT requirement was “less than meets the eye.”
“Law schools, including Northwestern, will continue to utilize alternative tests, including the GRE and GMAT, which easily meet the requirement of a valid and reliable admissions test,” he said. “Experimentation will continue unabated. That’s the thing about innovation and progress. You can’t really stop it. Not even the Law School Admissions Council and other self-preservationist interest groups.”
The council, which administers the LSAT, had warned the ABA that dropping the LSAT rule would remove an important consumer protection for prospective law students because it offers them a good prediction of whether they will succeed in law school.
Council president Kellye Testy said Monday that the decision to withdraw the proposal would give all the parties involved time to determine what’s in the best interest of applicants and law schools.
Diversity advocates also argued that the absence of an objective measure of student success could lead schools to place greater weight on factors such as applicants’ networks or the prestige of their undergraduate institution. That could disadvantage minority applicants, opponents said.
“This has always been about leveling the playing field and providing opportunity,” said Jay Austin, admissions dean at the University of California, Irvine School of Law and the founder of the Minority Network, a coalition of admissions deans that lobbied the ABA to retain the LSAT rule. “I’m all for innovation and I think many of us are. Anything we can do that broadens opportunities for more communities, we think that’s appropriate. The question is, ‘What’s the best way to do it?’ ”
Under the existing rule, law schools that wish to use tests other than the LSAT must conduct a study to prove that an alternate test is a “valid and reliable” predictor of law school performance. Schools now using the GRE studied the correlation between GRE scores and first-year grades, and concluded that the GRE is a strong predictor of grades. (The council has raised concerns about the methodology of these campus studies.)
David Payne, vice president of GRE maker Educational Testing Service, said Tuesday that his organization will continue to work with law schools to bring in students with a broader array of educational backgrounds. “The GRE General Test can absolutely be part of the solution, and in fact, schools have told us that candidates who submitted GRE scores and enrolled are performing very well,” Payne said.
With the LSAT rule still on the books, schools with deeper pockets and bigger endowments are more likely to spend the money to conduct such studies, Miller said. Schools with tighter finances may not have the ability to launch a study of the GRE or other tests, he added.
For schools that are considering using the GRE or other alternative tests, the ABA’s delay gives them more time to conduct validity studies, said Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep.
“Considering the potential significance this rule change would have had on the law school admissions landscape, it’s understandable why this decision has been postponed,” Thomas said. “It’s important to note that it only passed by one vote in committee this past May. A close vote doesn’t equal consensus and that may have given many ABA members some pause about making such a drastic change.”