September 23, 2011
"Trust Me"? Might Be Time to Verify LSAT/GPA Stats Self-Reported to the ABA by Law Schools
It is at the Univ. of Illinois College of Law. After an internal investigation, the University of Illinois reported that its College of Law's median LSAT score was 163, not 168, and median GPA was 3.70, not 3.81, for the Class of 2014. The incorrect stats had been published on the College of Law's website, but not yet to the ABA. The University did not state the cause for the incorrect data. Was it intentional? University investgators are, however, now auditing reported LSAT/GPA stats for previous years. In Illinois acknowledges goosing credentials of incoming class, NLJ's Karen Sloan observes
The school reported to the ABA that last year's incoming class had a median LSAT score of 167 and a median GPA of 3.80. Those figures are much closer to the incorrect numbers provided this year than the actual figures uncovered by the investigation. Median LSAT and GPA scores tend not to fluctuate significantly year-to-year.
Stay turned. Unlike gamed placement data, reported LSAT/GPA scores had not raised many doubts until now. In Law schools' credibility at issue, Sloan reports "[j]ust how many law schools are goosing their GPA and LSAT numbers is an open question." Why?
Law schools self-report those statistics to the ABA, which does not perform any regular auditing, said Hulett "Bucky" Askew, the ABA's consultant for legal education. An ABA representative does examine each law school's records as part of its accreditation site visit every seven years.
"We don't audit the data that a school produces, but we do continuously look at the data to see if there are anomalies," Askew said. "We're further developing our process for identifying anomalies."
That means the ABA has no plans to audit the data even once every seven years, let alone audit the annually reported data, something do-able by taking a random sample of law schools each year.
In an early LLB post that reported on the questions concerning the then speculated inaccurancy at Illinois, Mark Giangrande wrote
This story harkens us back to the Villanova story, where the ABA sanctioned that school for reporting incorrect data on several years of ABA surveys. The University of Illinois situation doesn’t seem to be the same, so far. I can’t understand why this kind of thing happens, especially with schools such as Illinois and Villanova. Is it vanity? Competitiveness? Aggressive reputation management? It’s not as if either school is going to run out of qualified applicants or be shunned by potential faculty members. Applications to law schools may be down due to the job market and debt, but the numbers are nowhere close to seats going empty. There is no reason for this kind of stuff to happen.
There may be no good reason but there also is only one way right now to hold law school administrators accountable -- catch them in the act if, unlike Villanova, the school does not admit its own mistakes. Quoting from The back story on Villanova's grade fiasco:
The irony is this: In its abject acknowledgement of the data reporting fraud, Villanova now likely be the source of the most uncontestable data on its incoming freshman and graduates. No one really knows how reliable most law school data is because the reporting is done under a “trust me” system.
Even if the internal investigation of past LSAT/GPA reported stats turns up no discrepancies, my hunch is Illinois will join Villanova as one of the two sources of the "most uncontestable data" self-reported by the legal academy.
Accreditation Based on a "Trust Me" System. If the ABA cannot or won't police the institutions it acceditates by something other than a "trust me" system of unaudited self-reported data, should the US Department of Education continue to recognize the ABA as an accrediting agency? See Vicki Szymczak's June 2011 LLB post, An Intervention: ABA Violates 17 Department of Education Accreditation Regulations:
Wait! Seventeen violations! Really? And the ABA has the nerve to be making changes to the accreditation standards for law schools when they are not even in compliance themselves. Somehow, this seems wrong to me. Maybe it does to the Department of Education too.
An Easy Alternative to "Trust Our LSAT/GPA Stats". Outsource the reporting to the Law School Admission Council. Brilliant idea and it comes from Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency. With substantial experience dealing with law school gaming of placement data, McEntee suggests that "an obvious way to eliminate any suspicion about incoming student data or temptation by admissions officers to lie" would be to take this reporting function out of the hands of law schools by having the LSAC calculate and report the LSAT and GPA statistics because that organization has the information on hand. Quoting from Law schools' credibility at issue.
Sure as hell beats relying on the ABA looking for "anomalies" in lieu of conducting audits. Well, as Sloan reports above, there looks like an "anomaly" in the Univ. of Illinois College of Law's ABA-reported data for last year's incoming class LSAT/GPA stats compared to this year's now corrected incoming class stats. Wait 'n see. [JH]