JD-Next Shot of young asian female student sitting at table and writing on notebook. Young female student studying in library.

An American Bar Association council recently voted that an alternative law school admissions test called JD-Next will not be granted “test parity” with the LSAT or GRE, citing the need for more data to determine its reliability in predicting success in law school.

The vote by the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (Council) determined that the ABA would not fully recognize JD-Next as an approved law school admissions assessment under ABA Standard 503.

However, the Council decided to continue the process of allowing ABA-accredited law schools that wish to use JD-Next in admissions to apply for variances.

The ABA describes JD-Next as a “segment of a law school contracts course with an exam.” According to the ABA, 51 U.S. law schools have already secured variances to use the exam.

Reliable, but with caveats

Prior to voting, the Council commissioned a report on the reliability of the test. Nathan Kuncel, an industrial organizational psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, led the report.

Kuncel said in his report that JD-Next can be used as a “lightly weighted addition” to more traditional elements predicting success in law school like undergraduate grades and LSAT or GRE scores but requires more evaluation before it is heavily relied on.

“The JD-Next exam is a reliable and valid predictor of early law school grades but with multiple cautions and caveats that cannot be evaluated with the present data and may represent threats to its validity if used operationally for high-stakes decisions,” Kuncel said in the report.

Before the vote, the Council sought public comments on the report, which resulted in 53 pages of almost equally positive and negative comments about the exam.

What is the JD-Next admissions test?

The JD-Next admissions test was developed by the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law and is financially backed by non-profits who also produce the GRE.

The program consists of an eight-week online contracts course for prospective law students and a final “law-school style exam” on the course material, including a multiple-choice and essay section.

Twenty-five percent of all ABA-accredited law schools have received variances to use the test, including the University of Wisconsin Law School, Indiana University-Bloomington Maurer School of Law, and Georgetown University Law Center.

No Illinois law schools have received a variance to use JD-Next in law school admissions.

Concerns and advantages of JD-Next

Those who have criticized JD-Next have cited a lack of data and accessibility measures, Law.com reported. For instance, the initial test data about JD-Next’s validity came from individuals who were already admitted to law school and had been exposed to the JD-Next curricula.

Daniel Thies, an Illinois lawyer and Chair of the Council’s Standards Committee, proposed that the council delay pronouncing that the JD-Next test is “valid and reliable” until more data is collected, according to the ABA.

Fifteen law school deans from across the country also expressed that more data should be collected in a letter written as part of the public comment period.

Additionally, Robert Dinerstein, chair of the ABA Commission on Disability Rights and professor of law emeritus at American University Washington College of Law, said in a public comment, “The use of high stakes assessments will require a process for providing reasonable accommodations for applicants with disabilities for both the JD-Next instruction and the JD-Next assessment.”

Supporters of JD-Next say that alternatives to standardized tests may address the disparities in scores according to race seen in the LSAT, Reuters reported. A 2019 study of the LSAT found the average score for Black test-takers was 142 out of a possible 180, compared with 153 for white and Asian test-takers.

In their public comment on Kuncel’s report, commenters from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law said that the JD-Next examination produced significantly smaller score disparities in two separate studies.

Other alternatives to standardized admissions tests

Reuters reports that some law schools are experimenting with small-scale admissions programs that don’t use the LSAT in hopes of expanding their applicant pool.

In addition, the Law School Admissions Council, which produces the LSAT, announced in a pilot Legal Education Program in 2002 that may act as an LSAT alternative.

The course program in three undergraduate institutions—Cornell College, Northeastern University, and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore—helps “students develop the skills necessary for success in law, navigate the law school admission process, and build a supportive community of belonging in law,” according to a press release.

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