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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Hylton Rankings: US News Without the Clutter

I’ve been a huge fan of J. Gordon Hylton ever since, as a youngster, I read his great work on African American lawyers in Reconstruction Virginia.  I highly recommend it to you all.  Gordon and my colleague David Callies and some other folks have an innovative property casebook, which I recommend to you for insights into teaching and property theory, even if you’re teaching out of another book.  And if you are using another book, I recommend it to you for consideration for adoption. 

When I saw, in Jason Czarnezki's post over at Empirical Legal Studies, that Gordon has a new ranking system–-“US News Without the Clutter”–-I was, to say the least, interested.  (Paul Caron's picked up this story.) Gordon makes the point, which I agree with completely–-that law school rankings ought to focus on quality of students and quality of faculty.  The key question for me is what’s the intellectual experience at a law school?  Is it a place on fire with ideas?  If so, that’s a place that deserves a good ranking, IMHO.  I think that’s what ought to matter to prospective students, as well.

Gordon, then, looks at two things: student quality (as measured LSAT midpoint between 25th and 75th percentiles) and faculty quality (as measured by US News’ peer assessment scores).  Good idea–I tend to think that much of the rest of that stuff is (1) manipulable (particularly self-reports on graduates’ employment) and (2) irrelevant to the intellectual experience of students and faculty at the school.

I’m enamored of what should henceforth be known in the trade as the “Hylton Rankings.” 

I thought his method–adding the mid-point LSAT (after subtracting 130 from it) of each school to its peer assessment score (multiplied by 10)--was worth a little more investigation.  The standard deviation, as you will notice below, for the LSAT-midpoint is much larger than that for peer assessment; therefore, the combined score gives more weight to the former more than to the latter.  The means and standard deviations for peer assessment and LSAT midpoint are as follows:

LSAT mid-point                    Peer assessment
maximum 173.0                      maximum 4.9
median 157.50                       median 2.30
minimum 146.5                       minimum 1.3
Mean 158.11                            Mean 2.51
SD 5.24                                   SD 0.85
N=180                                      N=180

So, I tweaked the Hylton rankings slightly.  (I also added in U.Conn, which Gordon had left out.)  I calculated standard scores with a mean of 50 and a standard deviation of 10 for each of the two variables (peer assessment and LSAT midpoint), added the scores for each school, and divided by 2.  Thus, the composite score gave equal weight to the new variables. Here is a list of schools whose “Hylton ranks” and “modified-Hylton ranks” differ by more than |3|. (There are 46 such schools; the new ranks are higher in 25 and lower in 21.)

Schools Whose Hylton Ranks and Modified-Hylton Ranks Differ by More than |3|

Difference School New score New Rank Hylton Rank
11 Chapman 42.05 140 151
10 Ave Maria 41.09 150 160
9 Campbell 41.57 145 154
9 Toledo 46.78 100 108
8 Akron 45.72 106 114
7 BYU 56.85 37 44
7 Hamline 43.81 122 129
7 Samford 43.81 123 130
7 Southwestern 43.81 124 131
7 Memphis 43.81 125 132
6 Baylor 53.43 57 63
6 Richmond 51.41 72 78
6 McGeorge 47.48 94 100
6 N. Kentucky 41.68 142 148
6 Tx Wesleyan 41.68 143 149
5 Wake Forest 58.50 31 36
5 Cardozo 56.74 40 45
5 Nevada 47.01 98 103
5 Suffolk 44.40 118 123
5 N. Illinois 43.22 131 136
4 Rutgers-Cmdn 52.70 60 64
4 Northeastern 51.52 71 75
4 Michigan State 47.48 93 97
4 Thm. Jefferson 39.07 164 168
4 Whittier 39.07 165 169
-4 Tulane 56.34 43 39
-4 Rutgers Newark 49.95 80 76
-4 UMKC 44.25 119 115
-4 Drake 43.56 128 124
-4 Creighton 42.12 139 135
-4 Nova 38.08 170 166
-5 Syracuse 46.39 103 98
-5 Gonzaga 43.67 126 121
-5 Stetson 43.67 127 122
-5 Cleveland 43.08 133 128
-5 Valparaiso 41.06 151 146
-6 Arizona State 51.71 66 60
-6 Missouri 51.01 75 69
-6 Tennessee 51.01 76 70
-6 SUNY Buffalo 46.50 102 96
-6 Tulsa 41.17 149 143
-6 CUNY 40.47 158 152
-7 Loyola NO 43.19 132 125
-8 Indiana Indnplis 46.97 99 91
-8 Howard 41.28 148 140
-10 West Virginia 40.69 157 147

The tweaked Hylton rankings and the original Hylton rankings are almost identical. The correlation between Hylton’s ranks and the new ranks is .998.  The almost perfect correlation between the two sets of ranks might suggest that there's no need to tweak the scores.

One more thing: the correlation between peer assessment and LSAT midpoint is .91.  All of which suggests that the people asked to compile the US News peer assessment scores are making judgments that are closely related to law student quality (as measured by LSAT midpoint). I will have some more thoughts on this and a related issue of law review citations soon.

UPDATE:  See also the related post, Hylton Rankings II and there's more talk of rankings of law schools based on their journals here  and yet more talk of rankings of law reviews here.

Alfred L. Brophy

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