Tuesday, April 10, 2007

On Assessing Student "Quality"


Nancy is right that any assessment of student quality should include dimensions of character and ethic that GPA and LSAT scores do not reflect. The ideal of law student "quality" like that of "diversity" must be broad enough to encompass attributes that make one person more valuable than another as we deploy scarce resources toward achievement of a worthy goal.
We must be at least equally sensitive to the ways that consideration of "soft" personal attributes may provide cover for objectives other than an accurate assessment of student quality. Consider the typical law school admissions process by which faculty members review student application files to predict who will succeed in law school and the profession. Each professor idiosyncratically considers a host of information about the candidate including letters of recommendation, student essays and interviews, and pressure from interested persons with influence. Although they are imperfect, GPA and LSAT provide information about academic achievement, a personal attribute that is unquestionably relevant to predictions of a student's future performance. Some of the soft information solicited and evaluated in law school admissions processes seems patently pointed at social status ("who yo daddy?") and unrelated to quality as Nancy describes it. I worry that narrow focus on GPA and LSAT scores, leaves some talented students out of luck. But I worry even more that assessment of soft information under the guise of a search for "quality" leaves students without saavy as to how to present themselves to an admissions committee, display their political connections or reveal their family's development potential out of the legal profession. When that happens, we all lose.

8 Comments:

Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

My fear is a different one. Soft standards create the possibility of selecting students who are politically and socially acceptable.

4/10/2007 7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your posting assumes that faculty members even read files. At most schools, it's the Admissions Committee STAFF that make the real decisions of fate and these folks most of the time are idiots. They're not around students, rarely participate in the academic life of the school, and many times haven't even attended law school. They're just number crunchers---and bureaucrats.

4/10/2007 9:22 PM  
Anonymous ZS said...

Is not the ability to present oneself an important quality to a law student? The life of a lawyer or professor is full of this necessity. While political connections and other soft factors may skew the admissions to a school, the ability to present oneself as someone who comes from nothing and is therefore deserving of the opportunity is just as important. If an applicant has not yet learned how to present themselves to any body which will evaluate them, they will surely be at a disadvantage compared to other students. I would argue that the soft factors are by far the most important.

4/10/2007 11:06 PM  
Anonymous Indiana2L said...

I am pretty sure that schools use the LSATS not just to predict intelligence but also as a bar to gauge the ability of a student to pass a bar exam. Any law school works very hard to have high bar passage and employment rates. These things help move the school up the rankings which in turn helps the students attain better, more prestigious jobs and so on and so forth.

Law schools will start caring about soft factors when big law firms and federal judges looking for clerks do the same.

4/10/2007 11:51 PM  
Anonymous Top 10 Law School Alum said...

Indiana2L's comment astounded me. The LSAT is only used to predict how a law student will perform their first year of law school. Not all three years, not all exams, and certainly not the bar exam.

It continues to amaze and worry me the attention paid to the LSAT. At my law school, I knew three people who had received widely disparate LSAT scores - mid 150s, mid 160s, and mid 170s, and all three had EXACTLY the same GPA at the end of the first year.

The LSAT is a horrible indicator of law school success and even LSAC admits a horrible indicator of professional success. I will take the problems of soft standards over the mechanical denial of potentially superstar individuals for failure to do well on a meaningless exam any day.

4/11/2007 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's all fine, but what does Ann Althouse have to do with any of this?

4/11/2007 7:43 PM  
Blogger Arbizaa said...

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Law Articles and Books

4/12/2007 6:26 AM  
Blogger Marie Reilly said...

Ann Althouse has nothing to do with this and I apologize for any suggestion that she might. I just liked the picture.

4/12/2007 12:47 PM  

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