The LSAT and Other Standardized Tests Are Good for Diversity

I attended a conference a few years ago for undergraduate “pre-law advisors” — academics, usually professors or deans, who guide students through the law school admissions process. An admissions officer at a prestigious law school used a previous applicant’s file (without identifying information) to illustrate the vetting process. She began by noting the student’s good grade point average from “a good school.” That bothered me because I knew that they would never describe my state institution as a “good school”.

I thought, thank god for the law school admissions test. Only LSAT gives the first-generation, mostly working-class college students I teach a shot at the best law schools.

The Journal reported in May that the American Bar Association, which accredits law schools, is considering a proposal to drop its requirement that applicants take a “valid and reliable admissions test.” This is likely a pre-emptive response to a case the Supreme Court will hear in its 2022-23 term. in the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, The judges will check if they keel over Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) who approved the use of racial preferences in admissions to promote the “compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body”.

When the court tilts grutter, Racially aware university admissions systems will be the subject of new court challenges. Racial disparities in admitted students’ scores on standardized tests is the strongest evidence of admission discrimination, as Justice Anthony Kennedy detailed in his grutter dissent.

By excusing preferred students from the LSAT, schools would make their preferences more opaque and challenges for them more difficult to prove. An optional LSAT policy would also cause average scores to increase by removing lower ones from the pool. This would elevate the school’s average score and create competitive pressure on top schools to adopt such policies.

Write for the majority in grutter, Judge Sandra Day O’Connor reiterated the need to “assemble a student body that is not only racially diverse, but diverse in all the qualities valued by the university.” The experience of my working-class students shows that the LSAT promotes this goal.

Among the prejudices masked by subjective standards is class bias. I don’t remember which “good school” was in the file the admissions officer showed at the conference, but I do remember that it was a very selective private university. Her words weren’t as benign as they might have sounded. She spoke about how she would evaluate the many applications she had to review each year. Whether or not a GPA was earned at a “good school” was clearly part of their internal algorithm to filter them.

It seemed unfair to me that she gave applicants additional recognition for having had the privilege or fortune of going to a “good school.” I hoped she would align her assessment of the GPAs with her weighting of the LSAT scores. In fact, her words still guide me to this day when I advise students hoping to get into law school. The LSAT is important, I tell them, because it helps validate the legitimacy of your high GPA.

Of course, most who go to “good schools” are academically gifted and have worked hard to get good grades in high school. But most of them also had a living situation, not to mention the financial opportunities, that made attending one of these “good schools” worthwhile.

For working-class students, the basic calculus is different. They often have significant family commitments that require them to stay close to home. Others depend on extended family safety nets for childcare, shelter, and even emotional support. Tuition, room and board, and travel are unaffordable for many of these students. The brightest of those pursuing college or college are calculating the expenses they anticipate in the future and wisely don’t want to be saddled with student debt. To them, my university—with annual tuition of around $10,000 and significant scholarship funds available—makes financial sense.

For those who can and will go to law school, without a “valid and reliable entrance test,” how will my students prove they are just as smart and capable of doing well in law school as students from privileged backgrounds? This is exactly what the LSAT does. The Law School Admissions Council, which drafts and administers the LSAT, has shown through extensive research that “the LSAT is the best indicator of law school success.”

Of my students who did very well on the LSAT, practically none paid for expensive preparatory courses. Genuine past LSAT questions are published after being managed and can be purchased at a low price. Students can practice taking a real test and identify weaknesses. They can then use free services, including the ubiquitous Khan Academy, to improve their performance.

Bias can take many forms, and the most effective way to counteract it—and promote diversity—is through objective measures like the LSAT.

Mr. Sracic is Professor of Politics and International Relations and Director of the Rigelhaupt Pre-Law Center at Youngstown State University.

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