November 29, 2023

Diving overview:

  • Policy body of the American Bar Association rejected the plan Monday, which would end the requirement that ABA-accredited law schools use a law school admissions test or other standardized assessment in admissions.
  • The ABA House of Delegates voted against changing the policies of the organization that mandates the admissions tests — tests opponents say contribute to mediocre diversity in legal education. Almost 600 officials make up the House of Delegates, which conducted a voice vote on the plan, meaning an exact count was not available.
  • However, the proposal is not dead. It could be revived and approved unilaterally Council of the Legal Education and Bar Admissions Section, another control panel which Test-optional policies are fine in November. That’s because although the House of Delegates approves the new policy, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes the Council as the branch of the ABA that accredits law schools.

Diving statistics:

For years, the ABA has periodically considered whether to implement a policy directing law schools to rely on entrance exams. Typically this was the LSAT, but in recent years some institutions have also allowed the Graduate Record Examinations, or GRE.

ABA formally authorized use GRE as an entrance exam in November 2021.

The organization last debated removing all testing requirements about five years ago. In 2018, the proposal did not even reach the Chamber of Deputies. It was withdrawn due to concerns that disadvantaged law school applicants would be unable to demonstrate their academic skills without an objective measure such as a standardized test. Opposition came from sources such as Law School Admissions Council or LSAC, which administers the LSAT.

Supporters of the test-optional movement were more optimistic last year when the ABA took up the problem again. The test-optional policy exploded into prominence in 2020, when many colleges relaxed entrance exam requirements for undergraduate students as the coronavirus shut down regular test sites.

Most colleges have not returned to their pre-pandemic policies and are either still experimenting with optional testing rules or adopting them permanently.

Opponents of the ABA proposal, however, as well as some law school deans, said the assessment offered a clear picture of students’ academic talent. They say weakening the testing requirements would undermine the quality of legal education.

ETS, the company that runs the GRE, was pleased to not vote, Alberto Acereda, its associate vice president of global higher education, he said in an emailed statement on Monday.

And Kellye Testy, LSAC President and CEO, said in a statement Monday that the LSAT “is an important tool for advancing diversity.” Testy said the House of Delegates’ move would allow more time to study the effects of optional policy tests on student diversity.

“We are committed to working with the ABA and the entire legal education community to revisit these issues and find ways together to continue to expand access and diversity,” Testy said.

Proponents of optional testing cite the same equity-oriented reasons for dropping college and law school testing requirements. They argue that the tests harm applicants who cannot afford extensive tutoring.

These are disproportionately prospective students who are black or other members of racial minority groups. Probationary mandates therefore contribute to a lack of diversity in legal education, observers say.

AND studying law at Florida International University in 2019 showed that the average LSAT score for black students was 142, compared to 153 for white and Asian test takers. The maximum score is 180.

The House of Delegates debated the ABA admissions standard change for about an hour. Several representatives said during the discussion that the organization should wait until law schools know more about how the optional exam policy affects admissions.

The proposal would not force law schools to be optional. It also wouldn’t start until 2025.

Bill Adams, Executive Director of ABA Accreditation and Legal Education, said in an emailed statement that the Section’s Council on Legal Education and Bar Admissions was disappointed by Monday’s vote.

The council will consider further action at its February 17 meeting Adams he said.

Understandably, the rule change has not moved forward, given the impact it would have on law school admissions and aspiring lawyers. Amit Schlesinger, executive director of legal programs at test preparation company Kaplan, he said in an email.

Schlesinger said that of the 82 law schools Kaplan spoke with in its survey of law school admissions officers in 2022, half said they would keep standardized testing requirements even if the ABA does away with them.

“If the rule change were adopted, we think many, if not most, applicants would continue to submit LSAT or GRE scores even if the particular law school did not require it,” Schlesinger said.

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