Legal Education

ABA Legal Ed council seeks comment on proposed revision to law school admissions test requirement

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A suggested revision to remove the requirement for law school entrance exams will be going out for notice and comment, following a Friday vote by the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

“We know that over the past several years across higher education, a growing number of schools have decided to remove a requirement for a particular kind of admissions test, or make it test optional. What this references is a recognition in higher education that there’s not just one way of identifying capable candidates for admission,” said Scott Bales, a retired Arizona Supreme Court chief justice and council member, who serves on the committee suggesting the proposed revision.

If the council revisits the issue following notice and comment, proposed revisions would go to the ABA House of Delegates no earlier than February 2023 midyear meeting.

The proposed changes for Standard 503 suggest cutting most of its language and adding a sentence that schools “may use” admissions tests. It also suggests law schools identify in admissions policies any entrance exam accepted.

Also going to notice and comment are proposed wording changes to Standard 501, which also addresses admissions. The proposed revision suggests a requirement that law schools annually assess admission policies and practices for compliance with the accreditation standards. The council met Friday in Chicago, and votes on Standards 503 and 501 took place during open session. Both proposals are detailed in an April 25 memo.

In the past five years, the council has focused on Standard 503 various times. Discussion started in 2016, when some law schools began accepting the Graduate Record Examination in addition to the Law School Admission Test. At the time, ABA-accredited law schools using an admissions test other than the LSAT had to prove it was valid and reliable.

In 2018, the Educational Testing Service, which is responsible for the GRE, submitted a report to the council that claimed the test accurately predicted first-year students’ grades. The same year, the council approved a proposed revision to cut Standard 503 and revise Standard 501, to consider admission credentials and academic attrition when determining compliance. That proposal was withdrawn shortly before a vote from the ABA House of Delegates because of “considerable and organized opposition,” according to the 2022 standards review committee memo.

Criticism included a statement from the Minority Network, a group of law school admissions professionals, claiming the LSAT was the best admissions test to predict whether a candidate would succeed in law school.

There were also concerns that eliminating law school entrance exams could harm diversity.

During the May 20 meeting, Daniel Thies, a Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, lawyer in private practice who co-chairs the committee suggesting the revisions, claimed that Standards 205 and 206, both of which address diversity, could address those concerns.

“There are lot of other guardrails in place, including our own standards, so that law schools will not allow the elimination of the (admissions) test to threaten diversity,” he said.

Following the council pulling its 2018 proposed revision, in 2021 the council released an independent assessment of the ETS study. Prepared by the University of Iowa’s Center for Advanced Studies in Measurement and Assessment, it found that if “certain plausible assumptions” were made, it was possible the GRE and the LSAT might be able to be used “defensibly and interchangeably” in law school admissions.

After the assessment was released, the council in a closed-session meeting voted in favor of allowing law schools to accept the GRE in admissions, in addition to the LSAT.

The 2022 proposed revisions to Standards 503 and 501 were suggested by the strategic review committee, which was recently created to do “big picture” work, according to an April 19 memo. It was written by Leo Martinez, a University of California Hastings College of Law professor who chairs the council, and Bill Adams, ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education.

Thies and Rebecca White, former dean of the University of Georgia School of Law, co-chair the new committee. Thies also chairs the standards review committee, and it will continue to review portions of the standards, according to the memo.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “ABA Legal Ed council asked again to remove requirement for entrance exams”

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