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Lane: Law school without LSAT has broader implications

BY JOE LANE | FEBRUARY 19, 2015 5:00 AM

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At some point during junior or senior year of high school, every student hoping to go to a four-year college must take the ACT or SAT at least once.

From the beginning of our high-school careers, we’re told that these tests level the playing field. We’re told that they’re designed to help us prove ourselves on a national stage to thousands of institutions around the country.

If you asked virtually any student in the country if he or she could be admitted into the school they were in now without taking one of these tests, nearly everyone would jump at the opportunity.

Last week, The Daily Iowan reported that the University of Iowa College of Law would begin accepting some UI students without taking the LSAT.

This new program will be available only to UI undergraduate or graduate students who meet rigorous academic standards such as being in the top 10 percent of their class or who are able to maintain a 3.5 GPA over six semesters of academic work. Moreover, to be eligible for this program, dubbed the “Kinnick Legal Scholars Program,” students must be in the 85th percentile for one of a series of other standardized tests.

Amy Beier, the director of admissions for the UI law school, said, “The decision is based on a recent rule change by the [American Bar Association] section that governs legal education to allow this practice. It’s based on evidence that undergraduate GPA and strong performance on other standardized tests is at least an equally good predictor as an LSAT score of performance in law school.”

When I first read about this program, the analogy that formed in my mind was that of medical school and the MCAT. The thought of a doctor that didn’t have to go through the rigorous studying process of the MCAT operating on somebody I knew, frankly, was not pleasant.

However, Beier said only a small group of students are eligible for the program, and eligibility does not guarantee admission. The demanding standards for the program function as quality indicators for law-school success.

Beier said, “There is a decrease in the number of law-school applicants across the board,” but the program “is actually based on data that the ABA had collected over many years.”

The New York Times confirms that law schools across the country, according to the ABA, have not seen first-year enrollment numbers this low since 1973.

My fear about this program was that removing the LSAT requirement for some individuals was merely a move to increase applicants and enrollment. While there is little doubt whether the program will help with this problem, it turns out the move saves students time and money as well.

But perhaps more important than the effect this decision has on the UI law school is its broader implications for students across the country. The ABA proving that the standardized admissions test is not necessary for success in law school may lead to the elimination of such tests for admission to college.

A day that millions of high-school students have only dreamed about — one without standardized tests — may not be that far off after all.


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