The council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar voted in November to amend Standard 503, which would make standardized testing optional for law school admission.
Standard 503 currently requires that law schools use a “valid and reliable” test to assess applicants, which has traditionally been the LSAT and more recently included the GRE. If adopted, the updated Standard would end the testing requirement altogether.
The proposed version of Standard 503 reads, “A law school may use admission tests as part of sound admission practices and policies. The law school shall identify in its admission policies any tests it accepts.”
The proposal is expected to go to the ABA House of Delegates for consideration at its midyear meeting in February 2023. The changes, if moved forward, would not be implemented until the fall of 2025.
Potential effects on law student diversity
The LSAT and similar standardized tests have been criticized in part because white students tend to score higher than students from other racial and ethnic groups. According to Law School Admission Council data from 2017-2018, the mean LSAT score for white test-takers was 153 points compared to 142 for Black test-takers and 146 for Latino test-takers.
The price of the LSAT, plus the cost of and access to prep classes, and the difficulty some examinees (including those who are neurodiverse) experience with a timed test could affect the test scores of diverse groups, according to Reuters.
The ABA Journal says those in favor of the amendment believe that relaxing the standard may increase opportunities for students from diverse groups who have historically not benefitted from LSAT scores.
However, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which produces the LSAT, said racial gaps in test scores are not the result of bias within the LSAT but bias within the larger education system.
Many law school deans have raised concerns too. A letter signed by 60 deans states that the proposed changes may force admissions staff to prioritize other criteria that will negatively impact students from diverse groups.
The letter argues that factors such as “GPA, written or verbal recommendations, the reputation of undergraduate institutions, admissions officers’ familiarity with those institutions, or other subjective factors” are “potentially more infused with bias,” according to the letter.
Dean Michèle Alexandre from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Dean Nicky Boothe from the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law, and Dean Anita Krug from the Chicago-Kent College of Law signed the letter.
Law schools may require standardized tests anyway
Kaplan, an LSAT prep course provider, surveyed 82 law schools this fall about their plans if the proposed changes were accepted.
- Half of the schools surveyed said they were “very likely” or “somewhat” likely to continue requiring a standardized admissions exam.
- Four schools said were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to stop requiring applicants to take an admissions test.
- 37 schools said they did not know what they would do.
Regardless of whether the ABA adopts the change or not, “it doesn’t necessarily mean that anything in admissions is actually going to change,” Jeff Thomas, Kaplan’s executive director of legal programs, told Reuters.
Medical schools are not required by their accreditor to use the Medical College Admission Test yet nearly all do, he said.
To read the public comments on the recommended revisions to Standard 503, click here.
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