Future law school applicants could avoid taking the Law School Admissions Test—or any other admissions test, for that matter—if a proposal by the nation’s law school accrediting body passes. The key word, however, is “if.”
After 90 minutes of discussion on Friday afternoon and a split vote, the council of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved a recommendation from one of its committees to delete an accreditation standard that requires law schools to test students using a “valid and reliable” admissions test.
If the proposal passes, technically, law schools wouldn’t have to test applicants at all, but they would still need to follow sound admissions practices, which likely would include the LSAT or Graduate Records Examination, since a different accreditation standard would still require schools to make sure that applicants appeared capable of graduating and passing the bar. And to determine if schools were living up to that, the legal education council still would look at admissions test data.
The biggest change would be that schools themselves would decide which test to use, without the burden of judging whether it was “valid and reliable.”
The move comes at a time when the LSAT’s dominance over law school admissions testing is loosening and more schools—such as Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School, and more—are experimenting with the GRE.
The proposal to delete the admissions testing standard, likely to thrill some law deans but worry admissions testing agencies, faces many hurdles before it can become active. Friday’s vote at the council’s three-day meeting in Boston paves the way for notice and public comment.
Kellye Testy, president and CEO of the Law School Admissions Council, which administers the LSAT, said she’s disappointed in the council’s decision because it weakens law school admission standards and “essentially creates a free-for-all that will be confusing and unfair for potential applicants,” she said.
“We are concerned that today’s outcome will open the door to exploitation in admissions,” Testy said.
Daniel Rodriguez, dean at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and a proponent of alternative admissions tests, called the council’s move “a good example of an idea whose time has come.” He added, “I applaud the standards review committee for thinking creatively about appropriate regulation.”
Bernetta Hayes, with the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, said Friday’s decision puts legal education in “no-man’s land.” CLEO focuses on expanding law school opportunities for minorities.
“Today’s student with her/his sense of entitlement will not realistically assess her/his potential for completing law school and passing the bar,” said Hayes, director of pre-law program operations at CLEO, in an email. “Because the entire U.S. educational system is still full of disparities and much of our educational system today is still separate but unequal, this approach will not increase diversity.”
This new proposal is drastically different from another revision that the council previously posted for notice and comment.
In March, the council approved a revision that would still require admissions tests, but eliminate individual schools’ ability to determine for themselves if an admissions test is “valid and reliable.” Instead, if a school wanted something other than the LSAT, the legal education council itself would decide if the alternative test was valid and reliable.
The council received nine written comments to the proposal and three testing entities testified at a public hearing. Testing entities generally supported the idea, although they offered up some suggestions and changes. Opponents, including a number of law schools or their deans, said the change would impede law schools’ innovation and their efforts to enroll diverse students.
The council’s standards review committee considered all the feedback and offered up three options for the council to choose from at today’s meeting. All three options started out by scrapping the current proposal and starting over with public comments.
Bar Exam Issue Tabled
In other news from the meeting, the legal education council voted to table an agenda item dealing with toughening up an accreditation standard regarding bar exam pass rates.
The current ABA rule gives schools up to five years to reach 75 percent passage, while also providing alternatives if they can’t meet the requirement. The proposal would have shortened the time period from five to two years, and deleted alternatives.
The legal education council, which has debated the bar pass standard for years, approved the harder rule last year. But in February, the ABA’s House of Delegates rejected the measure, sending it back to the council. Despite the House’s rejection, the legal education council decided in June it wouldn’t change its proposal. Instead, it conducted a survey to gather information about the House’s concerns.
Friday’s vote could have sent the same measure back to the House for a second vote. Instead, the council decided to reconsider the matter another day.
Angela Morris is a freelance reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @AMorrisReports