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ABA panel votes in equity push for ‘test-optional’ law school admissions

An American Bar Association panel has voted to make standardized testing optional for law school admissions, opening the way for racial preferencing that favors low-scoring applicants.

The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar voted Friday to abolish mandatory testing starting in fall 2025. The ABA currently permits accredited law schools to use either the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Officials at the companies that produce the LSAT and GRE opposed the proposed change, which awaits the approval of the ABA’s governing body in February. The proposal also has drawn criticism from law school professors and deans.

“The decision to make the LSAT optional is made in the shadow of the Supreme Court’s pending affirmative action case,” said Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas School of Law. “Law schools assert that the LSAT is not an objective measure of merit but is structurally racist. Now law schools can admit students without having to report their LSAT scores.”

According to the ABA council, Whites and Asians routinely earn the highest LSAT scores, while Blacks and Puerto Ricans score the lowest.

The council on Friday cited a report from its Strategic Review Committee (SRE), which dismissed concerns that testing-optional admissions would create an uneven playing field for applicants.

“Because law schools vary in how they use the LSAT, there is not currently a ‘level playing field’ as suggested by these comments,” the report stated.

The report also minimized concerns that removing standardized testing would create a “race to the bottom” by admitting poorly prepared students. Schools with poor attrition levels, law school exam scores and bar pass rates may continue giving the LSAT or GRE, it noted.

“The SRE does not believe such a ‘race to the bottom’ is likely,” the report stated.

In a letter to the council, 60 law school deans argued that removing mandatory testing would “diminish the diversity of law schools’ incoming classes, by increasing reliance on grade point average and other criteria that are potentially more infused with bias.”

“At the very least, we believe that more data and study on the effects of this precipitous change are needed,” the deans wrote.

Law schools remain divided on what they will do if the change is approved.

In a survey of admissions officers at the ABA’s 82 accredited law schools, education company Kaplan found that 30 will be “very likely” to keep requiring application tests if they become optional.

Another 11 schools said they are “somewhat likely” to continue testing, two are “somewhat unlikely,” two are “very unlikely,” and the remaining 37 don’t know what they will do.

Theodore H. Frank, director of the free-market Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, said abolishing admissions tests would create problems for current grading systems.

“The LSAT is the best predictor of law school grades. The ABA move is meant to reduce the role of merit in law school admissions,” Mr. Frank said.

Some leading law schools have already de-emphasized the LSAT and GRE, saying they exclude socioeconomic diversity by favoring students who pay for test-taking courses.

On Thursday, Yale and Harvard’s law schools announced they would withdraw from the U.S. News and World Report college rankings because of their emphasis on admissions scores.

Yale has ranked first in the annual ranking of law schools every year, with Harvard a few slots behind. Neither school responded Monday to a request for comment.

“This is yet another move to prioritize equity over excellence amid the continuing illiberal takeover of legal academia,” said Ilya Shapiro, a University of Chicago Law School graduate who serves as director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute.

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