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MEHTA: New LSAT measures hurt underprivileged law students

Column: Grass Roots

Since the publication of my last column, “Switch to digital LSAT will exacerbate inequities, lacks foresight,” I managed to garner the attention of not only the Rutgers University Office of the Provost, but also the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) executive team, including its vice president. The former, following the reading of my article, purchased two tablets for the office’s LSAT tutor to be used for all those who come for free tutoring sessions. 

We will work backward through its letter, starting with some points of clarification I wanted to make on my end. “Mr. Mehta’s claim that the Digital LSAT serves as an opportunity for tutoring companies to maximize their profits is simply incorrect.” 

I would like to note that my point was not meant to say that the switch from the LSAC was directly intended to allow, or offer companies a chance at maximizing profits, nor did I believe any conflict of interest was present. Instead, I was simply pointing out a market where companies can capitalize on a student’s future for gain. 

To offer free practice exams and Khan Academy preparation, but, as the LSAC addresses later in this paragraph, “ ... the Digital LSAT, like the paper-and-pencil test that preceded it, is designed to measure skills, not knowledge.” Having taken the TestMasters class when the exam was still on paper myself, I can assure the LSAC and the reader that one is paying to be taught those skills, an inherent advantage for anyone who can afford a similar class. 

Moving on, the LSAC in its response wrote, “LSAC did extensive research to ensure that the Digital LSAT does not inadvertently create new barriers for candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds. We surveyed test takers for more than five years to understand their familiarity and comfort with technology. In our most recent testing cycle, more than 96% of the 60,000 test-takers surveyed said they were comfortable using touchscreen technology, and the percentages among African American, American Indian and Puerto Rican test takers were even higher. Field tests confirm that test-takers across all ages and backgrounds find the Digital LSAT easy and intuitive to use.” 

Responses of comfort using touchscreen technology by minority groups were even higher compared to whom? Primarily white respondents? Further, while its survey found that test-takers found the digital LSAT easy and intuitive to use, did they find it easier and more intuitive to use as opposed to the paper LSAT? 

I would like to address the LSAC’s statement that it is “ ... working with our member law schools and other partners to advance diversity in the legal profession.” The only issue with statements like these is they create the same apathy in addressing law school inequities as they do when politicians make promises to disenfranchised communities they do not keep. Offering platitudes to a hungry stomach is nothing compared to feeding it. 

My question to the LSAC is simply, how are you advancing this diversity? 

The Economist reported the results of research into how easily older workers adapt to new technology. “One survey of Western countries, it reports, found that only 10% of adults aged 55-65 were able to complete new multiple-step technological tasks, compared with 42% of those aged 25 to 54.” 

It is for the same reason that those of older age are struggling in a job market focused on completing technological tasks that I argue disenfranchised communities will struggle more greatly with the digital LSAT — their exposure to technology could be comparatively less. A great majority of people in my age bracket will be “comfortable” with technology  — empirical observation allows us to see 3-year-olds picking up iPads and figuring out how to play games on them.

A wealthier public school district is able to purchase Chromebooks for their students to take home and use for classwork, whereas it is plausible that a school district in a poorer community may not even have up-to-date textbooks. I am simply trying to bring awareness to my perspective on an issue, not call out the LSAC for some sort of “foul play.” 

Lastly, I would like to cite FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy. Researchers studying testing of the Massachusetts PARCC found “At least in the time period that we studied, there is pretty compelling evidence that for two students who are otherwise similar, if one took the test on paper and one took the test on a computer, then the student taking the test on paper would score higher.” When asked if this disparity could do with computer fluency, the response of the researchers was essentially that they could not obtain the data needed to definitively say. 

Again, the realization I am attempting to bring the LSAC to is that even if all playing fields in terms of taking the LSAT are balanced, if research finds that scores are lower, the students from disenfranchised communities may not have the professional, educational or even parental resources to compensate for a lower score. 

The researcher’s penultimate answer says the following: “We can argue whether or not switching to online testing is good or bad, but it's probably inevitable. So, the real question is: Given these differences, how should states or districts education agencies respond to this? And step one is at least acknowledging that there might be a difference.”

I am simply asking for the LSAC to acknowledge, despite their albeit appreciated and I am sure diligent and thorough research over the years, that there is a chance they missed something. I hope this gets their attention once more, it was an honor to have done so the first time.

Rishi Mehta is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in Political Science and minoring in English. His column, "Grass Roots," runs on alternate Mondays.


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