Posted May 01, 2013 06:50 am CDT
To the possible chagrin of prospective law students throughout the United States, it appears likely that the national accreditation standards for law schools will retain the requirement that applicants take an admission test. For all intents and purposes, that means the LSAT.
In March, the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar reached a preliminary decision to retain the current version of Standard 503 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, including the admission test requirement. The council is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the accrediting agency for U.S. programs that lead to a JD degree. Currently, 201 law schools are accredited by the section, including three that have received provisional approval. Under Standard 503, a law school “shall require each applicant for admission as a first-year JD student to take a valid and reliable admission test to assist the school and the applicant in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s educational program.”
A school may, however, use the test results in a manner consistent with guidelines regarding proper use of test results provided by the agency that developed the test. Interpretation 503-2 says the standard “does not prescribe the particular weight that a law school should give to an applicant’s admission test score.”
Standard 503 doesn’t explicitly require that the test be the LSAT, but Interpretation 503-1 states that a school that uses any other test shall establish that it “is a valid and reliable test” to assess a student’s prospects for completing the school’s educational program.
The council voiced its support for retaining the LSAT requirement after considering two alternatives (PDF) developed by the Standards Review Committee, which is conducting a comprehensive review. In January, the committee voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the council approve a version of the LSAT requirement in Standard 503 that eliminates the reference to how a law school should use the test results, because that provision is essentially unnecessary in light of other language in Interpretation 503-2 that already gives schools flexibility to use test results as they deem appropriate.
But the committee also submitted a version of the standard that would eliminate the admission test requirement altogether. The committee acknowledged that this would give the council a chance to resolve an issue the committee has struggled with: whether the requirement is a matter that should be addressed in the law school accreditation standards.
Committee members who want to keep the test requirement say the LSAT is a reliable predictor of an applicant’s likely performance in law school and on bar exams. Committee members who favor doing away with the requirement say they have nothing against the use of admission tests but don’t think they are relevant to the law school accreditation process.
The council’s unanimous vote in March to retain the current version of Standard 503 is not necessarily final, however, even though that is the only version of the standard that it plans to post on the section website for comment. Scott Norberg, the ABA’s deputy consultant on legal education, said after the meeting that the council recognizes it will receive a range of comments on the LSAT requirement regardless of what version it posts. Any ultimate decision will come when the council considers the Standards Review Committee’s recommendations as an entire package, which will allow the council to take comments on all the recommendations into account.
In March, the council also approved for notice and comment a number of proposed changes in Chapter 2 of the standards, which covers law school organization and administration.
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