Last week Inside Higher Ed reported that the American Bar Association is considering ending a rule that law schools require the LSAT in order to receive ABA accreditation. Right now this is just an idea being kicked around by an ABA panel charged with reviewing the associations accreditation rules, but if the panel recommends the change (which many believe it will), ABA approval may not be far behind.
Why the proposed change? Many schools claim that the LSAT requirement takes away flexibility in the admissions process, because they have no choice but to report those scores to the magazines that that publish annual rankings (ahh, the rankings again). Since each school needs to keep up with the Joneses and keep their mean LSAT scores high (lest they risk dropping in those hated rankings), they end up turning away some students they really do want.
According to Inside Higher Ed:
Donald J. Polden, dean of the law school at Santa Clara University and chair of the ABA committee studying the standards, said that in two preliminary discussions of the issue, a “substantial majority” of committee members indicated that they would like to drop the LSAT requirement. (He confirmed a report on the likely shift in requirements, first published by The National Law Journal.)
Polden said via e-mail that there are “good arguments” for dropping the LSAT as an accreditation requirement. He said such a move would provide “greater flexibility for schools to achieve diversity goals in their admitted classes, permitting schools to experiment with admission programs that benefit the school without being penalized by U.S. News ranking changes attributable to those programs, following some of the thinking of undergraduate institutions on optional standardized entrance exams.” An ABA report last year was highly critical of the way many law schools are obsessed with high LSAT averages, which lead to higher rankings from U.S. News & World Report, and said that the link between test scores and rankings was discouraging efforts to promote diversity among law students.
We’re not sure how many law schools will drop the LSAT requirement if the requirement goes away, although one school, the Massachusetts School of Law, has famously fought the ABA’s LSAT requirement for years. It’s hard to imagine numerous top law schools following suit, but it’s not out of the question that they could end up looking at a combination of other quantified factors to get at the same thing.
If the changes does happen, though, one can’t help but feel like it’s a case of the tail wagging the dog: “The rankings are driving some less-than-ideal behavior because they report on LSAT scores. I know… Let’s not require the LSAT anymore! That will fix it.” If that were to happen, then surely U.S. News and other publications will simply put more emphasis on other quantifiable measures, such as undergraduate GPA. We can see it now: In five years there will be an article about the ABA dropping the rule that law schools require applicants to provide undergraduate transcripts. Then they won’t want schools to report how many of their grads pass the bar. That will teach those rankings publishers.
While we agree that too much emphasis is put on rankings, and the rankings themselves may put too much emphasis on standardized test scores, it really seems like the ABA is missing the point. If the LSAT works for admissions officers (and most still say that they do), then figure out another way to solve the rankings problem, rather than stopping what works simply because it creates an indirect downstream problem somewhere else. Dropping the LSAT requirement is an easy change to make, and it may seem like it mitigates the problem, but we guarantee that problem will simply reappear in another form.
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