The Department of Justice gloats in its press release that it has reached a $7.7 million payment and consent decree with the Law School Admission Council. The consent decree provides that LSAC will stop "flagging" the LSAT scores of applicants who received additional time or other accommodations during the LSAT. (It also makes accommodated test-taking easier to achieve.) For an aggregation of links, see Paul Caron.
But the change in policy will negatively impact some prospective students.
Theoretically, the practice of "flagging" accommodated scores caused a stigma. The worry was that law school admissions committees would view such flags negatively and make them less inclined to admit accommodated students.
But there was a benefit to this regime, too--at least to some. Accommodated students would not have their LSAT scores reported to the ABA, or, more importantly for law school admissions committees' sakes, U.S. News & World Report in the school's median scores. The ABA has explained that LSAC has no data demonstrating that accommodated LSAT scores have the same meaning as non-accommodated scores, so it excludes them from its totals.
I've blogged earlier about problems with class actions and settlements where an ostensibly similarly-situated group will "benefit" from a settlement, but lurking beneath the surface are complicated, often conflicting, interests. Here's how that would play out in this case.
Under the old regime, an accommodated test-taker with a 168 LSAT and a 3.0 GPA would be disadvantaged. Her file would indicate that she was an accommodated test-taker, and, despite her high LSAT score and sound index score, an admissions committee concerned about its medians would be less inclined to admit her. That's because her LSAT score would not be included in the USNWR medians. But, under the post-consent decree regime, the admissions committee would have no idea that she was accommodated, and it would be more inclined to admit her (if worried about its medians).
In contrast, under the old regime, an accommodated test-taker with a 153 LSAT and a 3.9 GPA would be advantaged. His file would indicate that he was an accommodated test-taker, and, despite his low LSAT score, an admissions committee concerned about its medians would be more inclined to admit him. That's because his LSAT score would not be included in the USNWR medians. But, under the post-consent decree regime, the admissions committee would have no idea that he was accommodated, and it would be less inclined to admit him.
The benefits, then, will redound to accommodated test-takers who score well on the LSAT. But accommodated test-takers who perform poorly on the LSAT will, in all likelihood, perform worse.
Additionally, it likely will trigger other, less obvious changes in law school behavior.
First, it will increase uncertainty for law schools trying to achieve LSAT medians. Recently, the ABA moved the reporting date for the median LSAT scores from the first day of classes to early October, which has moved schools to include a "cushion" in their LSAT median to protect against attrition between the first day of classes and the early October reporting deadline.
The ABA has indicated that it excludes accommodated LSAT scores from these reported medians because of a lack of data about their predictive ability in law school (indeed, some studies have gone further to suggest that it is affirmatively less predictive). It seems unlikely the ABA would suddenly include those scores going forward. What may happen is that the ABA will coordinate with LSAC to ascertain which scores are accommodated and throw them out of the median calculations--and let schools know which scores were thrown out (without identifying the applicants). Because of this opaqueness concerning the accommodated scores, that would increase uncertainty in law school admissions committees--they would fly blind accepting students, not know how to "cushion" their LSAT medians, and then learn later that certain scores would be thrown out when reporting to ABA and USNWR.
Second, it might affect scholarship retention. Currently, schools may adjust their scholarship amounts based on whether the LSAT score was accommodated or not. But going forward, accommodated LSATs and non-accommodated LSATs would likely be placed in the same bin of scholarship awards (if they aren't already). And if non-accommodated LSAT scores are less predictive of law school success, then that might make it more difficult for students to retain their scholarships--which means they might actually be making choices in advance based on scholarship awards that they are less likely to be able to maintain.
Whether one thinks these results are a good thing or a bad thing is not my point. The Americans with Disabilities Act does mandate certain accommodations for persons with disabilities, and the Department of Justice and the LSAC have reached an agreement going forward as to how to best pursue the goals dictated by the ADA. But, it's simply to note that the winners and losers will look different going forward. Depending on how a law school's admissions committee views its role in attracting students, supplying scholarships, maintaining LSAT medians, and so on, it might affect prospective students (and law schools) in unanticipated ways.