Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Should law schools drop the LSAT as a requirement for admission?

The ABA recently reported that they are considering droppingthe LSAT as a requirement for admission to law school. Some test will be required for law school admission, as yet to be determined (and only if this goes through.)  I don't know how I feel about this, because there are compelling arguments on both sides. It is something ASPer's should be thinking about, because the decision will impact them.

For the LSAT:

It is an imperfect measure of a student's chance of success during their first year of law school. College grades are wildly subjective, and cannot be used as an accurate measure of a student's potential for success in the law school curriculum. While there are arguments that the test only measures socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, or ability to focus, there are also valid arguments that the test is reliable at measuring a student's chance of first-year success, as well as success on the bar exam. Without the LSAT, admissions would have to move to other, less-reliable methods of assessing a student's potential, such as their grades in conjuntion with the rigor of their undergraduate curriculum. This would disadvantage students of lower socioeconomic status more than the LSAT currently does, because first-generation college students often attend the college they can afford, not the best college they can attend.

ASP offices will be inundated with students who are unprepared for the rigor law school. As law schools and the ABA discuss other reliable tests of student potential for success, ASP offices will have to handle the increased student demand for services from students who would have been advised against going to law school if they had a measure of their real chances of success.

Against the LSAT:

The LSAT is more flawed that reliable. The fact that commercial prep courses can report anywhere from 5-10 point jump in test scores means that the test is teachable, if the student has the money for a very expensive prep course. Students with great potential are left out because they cannot afford to study for the test because they need to work in addition to studying for school, need to work to feed and cloth their children, or assist their family. The test measures a very limited number of skills required for success in law school, one of which is ability to focus for 3-4 hours. This disadvantages students with disabilities, even if they receive accommodations. In sum, the test is a weak measure of student success, and weeds out a large number of students because they cannot afford the preparation necessary to do well on the test.

ASP offices would be able to serve the needs of students who would otherwise be left out of legal education. These students are often the most driven students, students who have succeed in life despite great challenges, and the most likely to listen to the advice of ASP professionals. Getting rid of the LSAT, and using some other test with less weight and inherent bias, would mean ASP could go back to its roots, working for better access to law school.

(My summaries are adapted from the 3-5 articles I have read in the last few days, both for and against dropping the test.)

I believe both arguments have merit. Unfortunately, this is black and white; the test is dropped or it is required for admission. Personally, I have seen it both ways; I have had students with great grades, yet woefully unprepared for law school, change their minds because of their score on the test. In these cases, I think the test was necessary for students to get an accurate picture of their potential. I have also had students with enormous potential, but terrible LSAT scores, get weeded out because they could not afford a prep course or time off of a job to study for the test. I think we have all had students in our office who had the means for intensive test prep, such as one-on-one tutoring, which resulted in a high score that masked their lack of preparation for the rigors of the law school curriculum. I wish we knew what the alternative admissions test might look like, because we would could be better prepared for changes to the composition of the student body. I think this is an important thing to think about, because it has the ability to really impact our community and our jobs. (RCF)

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