Guest author Douglas K. Rush, J.D., Ph.D., wrote this article. He is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education and Public Service at Saint Louis University where he teaches graduate research methods and statistics courses. He was formerly an assistant dean and member of the admission committee at Saint Louis University School of Law. His research interests include law school pedagogy, curriculum, admission, and factors which affect bar examination passage.
On April 2, 2011, the Standards Review Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar presented its controversial recommendation that ABA Standard 503 be eliminated. The American Bar Association [ABA] has been designated by the U. S. Department of Education as the accrediting agency for American law schools. The revision to the Standards would effectively abolish the requirement that ABA accredited law schools require that all applicants submit a Law School Admission Test [LSAT] score as part of the admission process. Donald Polden, Chair of the Committee and Dean of the Santa Clara University School of Law, stated that the Committee’s recommendation would provide “greater flexibility for schools to achieve diversity goals in their admitted class…without being penalized by U. S. News rankings.” This recommendation is opposed by many Committee members as well as by the Association of American Law Schools which believes that eliminating the LSAT requirement would significantly weaken legal education.
The recommendation to eliminate the LSAT as an admission requirement follows the movement of undergraduate institutions away from requiring the ACT or SAT as part of the application process. The Grutter v. Bollinger case followed by the enactment of state laws which prohibit race based affirmative action programs in college admissions have created a dilemma for many law schools. Law schools face the ABA requirement that they create a racially diverse student body and also face the pressure of reporting LSAT scores of their incoming students to U. S. News which utilizes those scores as one component of its law school rating matrix. Recently, the University of Michigan received a waiver of the LSAT requirement as justified by the need to admit its own graduates into its law school. What was unspoken but understood by this waiver request was that few of the University’s African American students could match the LSAT scores of the Caucasian applicants to its law school. This dilemma is not unique to Michigan. Seven other law schools have recently been granted LSAT waivers by the ABA.
The Law School Admission Council [LSAC] which publishes the LSAT has long tracked LSAT scores as part of its validation procedure. Its most recent report covering years 2003-2010 found that African American LSAT test takers had a mean score of 142.04 while Caucasian LSAT test takers had a 152.86 mean. The significance of this uncomfortable fact is that African Americans as a group have a mean LSAT test score at the 19.4 percentile level and that Caucasian LSAT test takers have a mean LSAT test score at the 57.5 percentile level of all test takers. Less than 3% of African Americans score above a 159 on the LSAT.This pattern is not unique to the most recent LSAT test administration. African American LSAT test takers as a group have consistently scored at least one standard deviation below Caucasian test takers during the past 20 years for which reports are publically available.
Eliminating the LSAT from the law school admission process is not as simple as the elimination of the SAT or ACT from the undergraduate admission process. Few undergraduates are required to take a standardized licensing test upon graduation from college. Law school graduates in all states except Wisconsin are required to pass a state bar examination as a precondition to the practice of law. The LSAT has long been validated as the best predictive measure of first year law school success as measured by grade point averages; final law school success as measured by final grade point averages; class rank; and success in passing bar examinations. In fact, the Standards Review Committee’s recommendation to eliminate the LSAT requirement specifically states that “[t]he LSAT can and does provide a fair measure of first-year law school performance and correlates well with final law school grade-point average, rank in class, and performance on bar examinations.”
The inconvenient and uncomfortable truth is that African Americans are underprepared for law school when compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Affirmative action programs have resulted in what some have called a “mismatch” condition where African Americans are admitted with incoming credentials which place them at a competitive disadvantage to their Caucasian classmates. Whether the “mismatch” theory is correct or not, African Americans fail out of law school in much higher rates; they rank academically much lower in class; and they fail bar examinations at a much higher rate than their Caucasian counterparts. One recent study found that Caucasians passed state bar examinations on their first attempt at a 91.9% rate while African Americans passed at a 61.4% rate. New York recently abandoned its efforts to raise the passing score on its state bar examination after it projected that a small rise in the passing score would result in 50% of all African Americans failing the bar exam on the first attempt. While the eventual passage rate for repeat test takers improves, 15% of African Americans were found to become discouraged and stopped taking the New York or other bar examinations after failing on the first attempt.
Serious consideration of these issues needs to be undertaken before the ABA abolishes the LSAT requirement for admission to law schools. Law schools are only now in the early years of adopting programs designed to assist underprepared students for the rigors of passing bar examinations. Whether these programs are sufficient to equalize bar exam passage rates for all racial categories or whether they are just band aids placed over the African American bar exam failure problem remains to be proven.
 American Bar Association, 2010-2011 Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, at http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/standards.html.
 American Bar Association, ABA Committee Members Show No Inclination to Start Over on Accreditation Standards Review (April 2, 2011), at http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/aba_committee_members_show_no_inclination_to_start_over_on_accreditiation_s/.
 34 C.F.R. Sec. 602 (2010); See also American Bar Association, Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, The Law School Accreditation Process, at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/legaled/accreditation/Accreditation_Brochure_October_2010.authcheckdam.pdf.
Insidehighered.com, ABA May Drop LSAT Requirement, January 14, 2011, at
 Michael A. Olivas, President of the Association of American Law Schools, Letter to Hulett Askew, ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, dated March 28, 2011, at http://www.aals.org/advocacy/Olivas.pdf
 Insidehighered.com, Quicktakes, Groups Protest Proposed Law School Accreditation Changes, April 4, 2011 at
 Grutter v.Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).
 See, e.g., Proposal 2, Mich. CONST. art.I, § 26; Proposition 209, Cal. CONST. art. I, §31; Washington State Civil Rights Initiative 200, Wash. Rev. Code § 49.60.400 (2011).
 American Bar Association, Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, Diversity Committee, Statement at http://apps.americanbar.org/legaled/committees/committees.html; see also 2010-2011 ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools, Standards 211, 212 and 213 at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/legaled/standards/2010-2011_standards/2010-2011abastandards_pdf_files/chapter2.authcheckdam.pdf.
 U.S. News and World Report, Best Graduate Schools (2012), Law School Ranking Methodology, at
 See, University of Michigan, Wolverine Scholar Program (2011), at http://www.law.umich.edu/prospectivestudents/admissions/applyingtomichigan/Pages/WolverineScholar.aspx.
 Karen Sloan, LAW.com, Possibility of a Voluntary LSAT Reignites Debate Over Test’s Value (February 2, 2011) at http://www.law.com/jsp/law/LawArticleFriendly.jsp?id=1202479912701.
 Susan P. Dalessandro, Lisa A. Stillwell, Jennifer A. Lawlor & Lynda M. Reese, Law School Admission Council, LSAT Technical Report Series, LSAT Technical Report 10-03, October 2010, LSAT Performance with Regional, Gender, and Racial/Ethnic Breakdowns: 2003-2004 Through 2009-2010 Testing Years, at http://www.lsac.org/LSACResources/Research/TR/TR-10-03.pdf.
 Calculated by transforming the raw scores to standardized z scores using the overall mean and standard deviations for the 2009-2010 administration of the LSAT.
 Calculated by transforming to standardized z scores using a standard deviation of 8.74 for African American test takers.
 See, e.g., Susan P. Dalessandro, Lisa A, Stillwell & Lynda M. Reese, Law School Admission Council, LSAT Technical Report Series, LSAT Technical Report 00-01, April 2000, LSAT Performance with Regional, Gender, and Racial/Ethnic Breakdowns: 1993-1994 Through 1999-2000 Testing Years, at http://www.lsac.org/LSACResources/Research/TR/TR-00-01.pdf.
 National Conference of Bar Examiners and American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements (2011), at http://www.ncbex.org/fileadmin/mediafiles/downloads/Comp_Guide/2011_CompGuide.pdf; see also Wisconsin Court System, Diploma Privilege 2011, at http://www.wicourts.gov/services/attorney/bardiploma.htm.
 Linda F. Wightman, Law School Admission Council, LSAC Research Report Series, Research Report 93-05, December 1993, Predictive Ability of the LSAT: A National Summary of the 1990-1992 Correlation Studies, p.10, at http://www.lsac.org/LsacResources/Research/RR/RR-93-05.pdf.
 Linda F. Wightman, Law School Admission Council, LSAC Research Report Series, Research Report 99-05, July 2000, Beyond FYA: Analysis of the Utility of LSAT Scores and UGPA for Predicting Academic Success in Law School, p.16, at http://www.lsac.org/LsacResources/Research/RR/RR-99-05.pdf.
 Id. at 16
 Linda F. Wightman, Law School Admission Council, Research Report Series, LSAC National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study (1998), at http://www.lsac.org/LsacResources/Research/RR/Wightman-LSAC-98.pdf.
 American Bar Association, Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, Standards Review Committee, CHAPTER 5: ADMISSION AND STUDENT SERVICES, Draft FOR April 2011 Meeting, at http://apps.americanbar.org/legaled/committees/Standards%20Review%20documents/April%202011%20Meeting/Report%20of%20Subcommittee%20on%20Attracting%20and%20Matriculating%20Students%20%28redline%20to%20Standards%29.pdf.
 Richard Sander, A Systematic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools, 57 Stanford L.R. 367-484 (2004) at http://www2.law.ucla.edu/sander/systemic/final/sanderfinal.pdf.
 Wightman, LSAC National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study (1998), supra at p. 27
 Michael Kane, Andrew Mroch, Douglas Ripkey & Susan Case, National Conference of Bar Examiners, Report Prepared for the New York Board of Law Examiners, October 4, 2006, Impact of the Increase in the Passing Score on the New York Bar Examination, at http://www.nybarexam.org/press/ncberep.pdf.
 Micahel Kane, Andrew Mroch, Douglas Ripley & Susan Case, National Conference of Bar Examiners, Report Prepared for the New York Board of Law Examiners, July 9, 2007, New York Bar Examination Performance in February and July 2006 for Candidates Failing for the First Time in July 2005, at http://www.nybarexam.org/press/ncberep2.pdf.