April 16, 2018

SRC moves proposal ahead to make standardized test optional for law schools

The requirement that American Bar Association-approved law schools mandate applicants to submit a standardized law school admissions test as part of their admissions application would become optional under comments offered by the Standards Review Committee (SRC) of the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar at its meeting on April 13.

The matter now goes to the Council, which meets May 11 in Washington, D.C. If the Council approves the changes for Standards 501 and 503 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, the earliest they could go before the ABA House of Delegates for its concurrence would be August.

The discussion of what to do with the ABA requirement for a “valid and reliable test” for most applicants for ABA-approved law schools has been growing for several years since some law schools were granted variances to explore the use of other tests under certain conditions. In addition, the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona became the first school in February 2016 without a variance to announce that it would accept the GRE for incoming law students.

For more than a half century, the LSAT, administered by the Law School Admissions Council, was the test used by schools, although it has never formally been assessed as “valid and reliable” by the Council. Rather, schools had their own experiences with the test validated each year directly by the LSAC. Since the Arizona decision, a number of other law schools, including Harvard and Northwestern, have announced they would accept the GRE for law-school applicants.

The recommended change came during a discussion at the SRC’s all-day meeting. One day earlier at a public hearing, both the LSAC and the Educational Testing Service, which administers the GRE, touted the value of a standardized test in the law school admissions process and explained why their tests were “valid and reliable.” Maureen O’Rourke, council chair and dean of Boston University School of Law, acknowledged during the April 13 meeting that “the current situation is not tenable, and we can’t go on (without the Council addressing it).”

The SRC saw no reason for the Council to change its mind about the proposal to remove the requirement of an admissions test from the Standards that were circulated earlier for notice and comment. But it did prepare an interpretation – viewed as an explainer – that would establish a “rebuttal presumption” that the school was out of compliance to Standard 501 if its admissions policy and process were called into question and the school did not require such a test. Standard 501 states that a school must “maintain sound admission policies and practices consistent with the Standards, its mission and the objectives of its program of legal education.”

As proposed by the draft circulated by the Council for comment, Standard 503, which requires a test, would be eliminated altogether and Standard 501 would be strengthened and would include the new explainer.

Under the procedures of the Council, the ABA House of Delegates can concur with the recommendation or return it with or without recommendation. The Council can then send it back to the House again for concurrence. The final decision for this and any standard rests with the Council, however.

Barry Currier, ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education, and others at the meeting agreed that it was likely that law schools would continue to require an admissions test score from applicants, even if the formal requirement that they do so was removed. Removing the requirement, proponents of the change argue, will open opportunities for law schools to innovate with respect to putting together an entering class that serves well the program and missions of schools.

The SRC considered a number of other proposals, and their actions included:

  • Approving new language for Standard 205 that covers nondiscrimination and equality of opportunity. The new language, consistent with requests from several religious-affiliated law schools, notes that the standard does not require a religiously affiliated law school to act inconsistently with the essential elements of its religious values and beliefs provided that the actions are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A proposal for changes to the “Diversity and Inclusion” Standard 206 was tabled.

  • Recommending no changes to the proposed reworking of Standard 601, which would delete the written assessment for the library during the reaccreditation process. Some law librarians had requested the change, but a written report is not required now for other nonacademic areas of the law school.

Currier also gave a report on the reorganization of the Council, which also would need House concurrence. Under the approach, the work of the SRC and the Council’s Accreditation Committee would be folded into the Council to save money and accelerate the process on a range of matters. Currier said he outlined the reorganization recently to a group of deans at an American Association of Law Schools meeting, and it generated favorable response, in part because reaccreditation would occur every 10 years rather than seven.

For additional information on the April 12 SRC public hearing, see the News and Announcements feature on the right-hand side of the section's web page.