More on Standardized Test Accommodations

I received an interesting question recently from Nick, instructor at Mentor Test Prep in DC:

Several LSAT students have asked me what sort of discount an LSAT score that is won under accommodated testing conditions (usually extra time) is given in the minds of law school admissions officers.

I've told most of them that you likely won't hear it from the lips of admissions officers, but I imagine there would be a not-insubstantial discounting of that score, given the implications for the student's ability to excel under the strict timing requirements of law school exams and later practice.

Would you care to tackle that one?  I'm operating on pure gut instinct, and I'd like to be able to speak with some measure of authority on this matter.

This is a controversial topic, and I'm sure I'll be receiving some hate mail in response, but here goes.

First: As an applicant, purely for admissions purposes, you're likely better off applying with a higher accommodated score than a lower unaccommodated one. (For human development purposes, though, I agree with Paragon to Pieces that accommodations can have a corrupting effect.) Law schools care an inordinate amount about the numbers, no matter what they say publicly. They don't have to report accommodated scores to the ABA (and by extension to US News), but even so, higher numbers are always better. What an applicant has to worry about is how he stacks up with his higher accommodated number against someone with the same unaccommodated number. Better to be in that particular horse race, though, than to be outside of striking distance because of a lower number.

Second: Plenty of admissions officers are skeptical about accommodations for learning disabilities. They won't say that, but it's true. LSAC might accommodate someone who has trouble "processing information quickly" (or some variation on that theme), and law schools might accommodate such a person in the classroom. The real world won't, however, and I worry — and plenty of admissions officers worry — about how people who lack skills that are fundamental to practicing law are going to do when they're outside of the protective cocoon of law school.

Third: Admissions officers generally don't like to read the reports that explain what the disability is, or what the specific accommodations were. All they look at is the asterisk next to the LSAT score designating it as accommodated. There are universities whose in-house counsel won't even let admissions officers read the underlying reports. Why? Because knowing what the disability is opens admissions officers up to lawsuits under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Universities prefer to live in a don't-ask-don't-tell regime.

Fourth: What all that means for applicants is that if your disability is a physical one (rather than a learning disability), it's in your interest to write an addendum explaining the nature of the disability. Someone who's in a wheelchair is still going to have an easier time practicing law than someone who has trouble processing words quickly. If your disability is a learning disability, keep your mouth shut. Do not volunteer any information about the disability; just take the upside of the higher score, and the upside of don't-ask-don't-tell.

Fifth: This whole issue is likely to go the way of the dodo. As a result of lawsuits (naturally), neither the GMAT, the GRE, nor the SAT designates scores as accommodated anymore. The days of asterisked LSAT scores have to be numbered. See here, here, and here.

More Ivey Files postings on this issue here and here.

Interesting posting at blog 'Number 2 Pencil' here. (Her "About Me" page is interesting too.)

Article by an attorney who specializes in accommodations issues here.

Article in favor of non-designated scores here.