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Law schools examine predictive value of GRE, LSAT

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In 2016, the University of Arizona announced that its law school would accept Graduate Record Examinations scores as well as the traditional Law School Admission Test from applicants. Since then, debate has swirled around how valid and reliable both standardized tests are in predicting how applicants would perform in law school.

The Educational Testing Service, which designs and administers the GRE, claims that exam’s ability to predict law school success is comparable to that of the LSAT. The Law School Admission Council, which designs and administers the LSAT, counters that its exam is specifically designed to test skills needed to excel in law school, and that the validity of the exam has years of research.

“The LSAT is the only test designed specifically for legal education, the fairest mechanism to ensure a level playing field, and gives law schools a uniform method of assessing each applicant’s ability to thrive in their studies and in the profession,” Kellye Y. Testy, president and CEO of the organization, said in October.

In the past year, more than 10 law schools have announced that they will accept the GRE in admissions, including those at Northwestern, Harvard and Georgetown universities.

Under a proposal being considered by the council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, ABA-accredited schools could have more flexibility to consider alternate ways of testing applicants.

At their November meeting in Boston, council members decided to consider doing away with Standard 503, which with a few exceptions mandates that accredited law schools “require each applicant for admission as a first-year JD degree student to take a valid and reliable admission test.” While schools are not required to use the LSAT under the current standard, if they use a different admissions test, they must “demonstrate that such other test is a valid and reliable test to assist the school in assessing an applicant’s capability to satisfactorily complete the school’s program of legal education.”

Under a proposal being considered by the council, Standard 503 would be removed and Standard 501—which requires admitting competent candidates—would be rewritten to make the presence of a valid admissions test a factor for determining whether a law school is in compliance, rather than a requirement.

According to Maureen O’Rourke, chair of the council, the current standard for using admissions tests other than the LSAT is difficult for some, based on resources.

“It just seems to me unfair that a giant school who can put together a big psychometric study can do this, while a tiny law school is not going to have enough people to validate the study,” said O’Rourke, the dean of Boston University School of Law, at the council’s November meeting.

The latest proposed revision, which is out for notice and comment, follows an earlier proposed revision—which the council eventually decided not to pursue—that suggested the council establish a standardized process to determine the validity and reliability of law school admissions tests other than the LSAT.

At the November meeting, Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, noted that commissioning validity studies can be complicated.

“I don’t think it’s that easy to hire an expert and say, ‘Can you give us validity?’ ” Currier said. “They say, ‘Why don’t you tell me the validity you want, and I will give you a report.’ The devil is in the details.”

When the ABA Journal asked Currier whether any of the law schools that recently announced they would be accepting the GRE had submitted validity reports to the ABA, or if the organization had reviewed any submitted studies, he replied that it would be “premature to comment while the notice and comment period continues.”

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This article was published in the February 2018 issue of the ABA Journal with the title “Under Examination: As more law schools consider using the GRE as well as the LSAT, questions remain about the tests’ predictive value.”

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