By David Klieger and Simone Pollard
Every worthy change begins with a single effort.
When University of Arizona (UA) law school dean Marc Miller set a goal of admitting the “best and most diverse class” the school could, he sparked a movement among other institutions committed to doing the same.
In reaching out to ETS two years ago, UA wanted help in finding a way to expand access for qualified applicants from a wider range of backgrounds. At the time, there was only one test that Arizona and other law schools in the United States accepted for admissions purposes: the LSAT® exam. But upon conclusion of a study that showed that the GRE® General Test is a valid and reliable predictor of students’ first-term law school grades, Arizona announced it would accept GRE scores with parity. It was an announcement that drew national attention, since Dean Marc Miller indicated that the change in Arizona’s admissions policy was “an effort to fundamentally change legal education and the legal profession.”
Since then, six other law schools made similar announcements. And this week, ETS announced the results of its national validity study — completed in collaboration with 21 law schools — indicates that the GRE General Test is a strong, generalizably valid predictor of first-year law school grades. Furthermore, results show that the test adds to the prediction even when undergraduate grade point average already is available to predict those grades. The study, which included a diverse and representative group of law schools, also reiterated the reliability of the GRE test that had been shown in prior research.
How has a testing program that has been around for many years sparked new interest? The GRE General Test is appealing to law schools because more people take it than any other graduate or professional school admissions test — more than half of a million test takers annually. That’s a larger pool from which law schools can glean applicants. And that pool contains people who might be interested in pursuing a law degree, people who want to apply to both graduate school and law school but don’t want to pay for two tests, or people who may already possess GRE scores that they used for admissions to a graduate or business program before deciding to pursue a law degree.
And as Harvard Law School’s dean observed when it announced it would accept GRE scores as well, law schools’ use of the GRE test can open a pipeline for applicants with broader interests and backgrounds, including those interested in burgeoning STEM fields.
Increasing access to law schools, in part, means increasing relevant test options for students. Of course, the decision to accept an additional measurement tool is a serious matter. Law schools need to identify clearly what they want to measure before they select a measurement tool, and they should collect evidence that they have chosen the right admissions test before they make a decision that could have a dramatic impact on their admissions process. Such was the case in 2014, when business schools reviewed evidence that the GRE test is valid and reliable for use in business school admissions. Now, about 1,300 business schools around the world accept GRE scores.
As a nonprofit measurement research organization, ETS seeks to help advance quality and equity in education by providing fair, reliable and valid assessments, research and related services. Our efforts to validate the GRE test for use in law school admissions helps us fulfill our organization’s core mission and, together with law schools, we hope that the end result is greater access to law school for qualified people from a wider range of backgrounds.
And that, indeed, would be a worthy change.
Klieger is a Research Scientist in the Academic to Career Research Center at ETS. Pollard is Senior Director of Business Development in ETS’s Higher Education division.