A new way to test law school applicants

Scott Roberts
July 13, 2016
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Indiana law school deans say they would be open to accepting someone’s Graduate Record Examination score in place of the Law School Admission Test, though most said they would need more research to prove the GRE is a valid predictor of law school success.

The deans’ statements come after the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law said it will begin accepting GRE scores for the fall semester as well as the standard LSAT scores, but that decision did not come without controversy.

When Arizona announced it would experiment with accepting GRE scores after a study it commissioned said the GRE would be a valid indicator of success, the Law School Admission Council reminded the Arizona school in an April letter that to remain a member of LSAC, substantially all of its applicants for admission must take the LSAT, the test LSAC administers. The letter also notes the LSAC board of trustees would be “considering the issue of your continued membership” in LSAC.

Deans from 147 law schools across the country, including Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Notre Dame Law School and Valparaiso Law School, signed a letter expressing concern over LSAC’s purported threat of pulling the school’s membership.

“Expelling (Arizona) for this is unwarranted under the existing rules and sends a terrible message to law schools about experimentation in the admissions process,” the deans’ letter says. The deans asked the LSAC board of trustees to modify the bylaw requiring nearly all of admitted law students take the LSAT.

The Accreditation Committee of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has said it will review Arizona’s GRE study and address the validity of alternative tests. LSAC posted a letter on its website that it will “maintain the status quo of existing LSAC members for the time being.”

Rogers College of Law Dean Marc Miller said the school so far had received 62 applications with just GRE scores and has made decisions on 20. Of the 20, 11 had been admitted to the school, and eight of the 11 had put in deposits at the school. The other 42 applications were still under review.

For comparison, Miller said the school received 1,350 applications from traditional law students or U.S.-based students who had taken the LSAT. He said the normal first-year law school class numbers 135 students, which includes about 30 international students.

“We still have very high admissions standards,” Miller said. “We look for strong records. We usually look for about 85th to 90th percentile for LSAT scores and we decided to do the same for the GRE.”

newton Newton

Notre Dame Law School Dean Nell Jessup Newton said she doesn’t normally get involved in “political stuff,” and this was only the second time she had signed a mass letter advocating something as dean. However, she felt the tone of LSAC’s letter to Arizona was too harsh and something needed to be said.

“If it helps identify the students that will do well in law school, why wouldn’t you support it?” Newton asked of the GRE. “If it’s a valid and reliable predictor, which (Arizona’s) study says it is, then I don’t see why not. Law schools have to innovate, and I think this (is) part of that.”

parrish Parrish

Austen Parrish, dean at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, did not sign the letter. He said he didn’t feel the need to add his voice to it since so many other deans had. While he didn’t agree with the tone of LSAC’s letter to Arizona, he thought they had every right to question what the school was doing.

Parrish said he also “wasn’t thrilled” with the tone of the deans’ letter in response, and he didn’t feel like using the GRE was really innovation.

“This is not a new way of teaching our students. This is a way of getting more butts in the seats. Now I don’t think Arizona should have been penalized for trying this. … Arizona got lucky with this one. I definitely don’t see it as innovation.”

Parrish also disputed Arizona’s claim that accepting the GRE will result in a more diverse pool of applicants. Parrish cited an op-ed by Aaron Taylor, an assistant professor at St. Louis University School of Law that argued the GRE is misused for graduate admissions the same way the LSAT is for law school admission. Scores for white students were much higher than those of black students, and scores for Latino students were only slightly higher than those of black students.

“I think as a diversity tool it may be counterproductive,” Parrish said.

page-anthony-mug.jpg Page

Acceptance of the GRE has also been seen as lowering admission standards to law school but Antony Page, vice dean at IU McKinney, doesn’t see it that way.

“The LSAT is used to provide a predictor of people’s performance, and if we have another test that also serves that purpose, I don’t see where the criticisms come from,” he said.

Ted Waggoner, a partner at Peterson Waggoner & Perkins LLP in Rochester, said schools could find whether the test would be a valid predictor by pulling GRE scores from people who got master’s degrees and then decided to go to law school. If they received a high score on the GRE and did well in law school, then the GRE would be valid.

ted waggoner Waggoner

He said accepting GRE scores might make for a better-rounded student because the GRE tests in a number of areas.

“There isn’t any part of getting into and out of law school not being pushed and prodded by some party with computers,” Waggoner said. “We all know enough lawyers to know genius is not required to go to law school.”

The future

Arizona’s acceptance of GRE scores, and LSAC’s backlash against the school, has opened the door to discussion about the LSAT and other ways law school success can be predicted.

Deans questioned whether law schools are being bound too tightly by LSAC regulations and said it’s dangerous that LSAC is the only organization that administers a law school admissions test.

“The LSAT is only given four times a year and I think there needs to be more flexibility,” Parrish said. “I’m happy for the pressure on LSAC and I think the test needs to be more accessible.”

Deans also questioned the effectiveness of the LSAT as a whole and agreed that while it does a decent job of predicting first-year success, it doesn’t fare that well at predicting law school success as a whole.

“Maybe we need more behavioral interviews and techniques firms are using,” Newton said. “Maybe we accept more based on grades.”

Newton suggested students possibly be measured more on emotional intelligence, grit and motivation, which she said can be as valid an indicator as LSAT scores.

Parrish agreed that a behavioral test might be a better way to go and talked about using a Myers-Briggs personality test to see what kind of students do best in law school.

“What are acceptable bases for accepting students?” Parrish asked. “That’s still a valid question.”

Page also said if there was another way to predict success not only in law school but in law in general, he’d be all for it. He talked about possibly using untimed tests or other ways to measure success.

“Why do regulators require schools to have an admissions test? Some tests don’t measure what administrators want them to measure, and as long as something is a comparable predictor, that should be enough,” he said.•


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