Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What USN&WR Asks About Law Schools' LSATs and GPAs

My prior post described a puzzle about Baylor University School of Law's score in the most recent U.S. News & World Report ranking of law schools. It looks likely that the answer to that puzzle turns on what median LSAT and GPA Baylor should have reported to USN&WR versus what it did report. As I said I would, I've contacted USN&WR to see if it can help resolve the mystery. Supposing that it might have a different view of the matter, and wanting to give it a fair shake, I've also contacted Baylor and invited its comments.

Please allow me, as a personal aside, to note that I never planned for my meandering series of posts about the USN&WR law school rankings to crash into this can of worms. I don't want to play the part of an investigative reporter, a judge, or jury. I just want to figure out how the rankings work (or don't), and how we might improve them. Like the USN&WR rankings or not, they profoundly affect a lot of people. Even as I type these words, students across the country are relying on the rankings to decide where to spend tens of thousands of dollars and the next three years of their lives. Those students deserve accurate information. Hence my interest in figuring out how, in the case of Baylor and other law schools, USN&WR measures median LSAT and GPA.

So, how does USN&WR measure a law school's median LSAT and GPA? It sends each law school a questionnaire including the following:

Matriculants' GPA and LSAT Scores — Law School

2005 ABA Questionnaire Reference: Part 2, Section 1, Question 1D.

Please report the 75th and 25th percentiles for both GPA and LSAT scores for full and part-time students matriculating during the period 10/1/2004 through 9/30/2005. Report ALL registrants, including those who withdrew prior to October 1, 2005.

In reporting median undergraduate grade point averages and LSAT scores, please include ALL full-time students matriculating during the period 10/1/2004 through 9/30/2005. Report all registrants, including those who withdrew prior to Oct. 1, 2005. Please include in the LSAT and grade-point average medians all matriculating African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, and foreign students, as well as legacies and students matriculating as the result of any special programs.

Note first that USN&WR's questionnaire expressly references the ABA's. With regard to LSATs and GPAs as with regard to many other items of information, USN&WR asks law schools to tell it the same thing they told the ABA. Note next how carefully USN&WR's questionnaire defines the time span under consideration: all students matriculating from 10/1/2004 through 9/30/2005. USN&WR quite evidently does not want a school to report only the LSATs and GPAs of students matriculating in the fall.

I imagine my readers can decipher texts at least as well as I can, so I leave each of you to figure out whether any law school could in good faith reply to USN&WR's 2005 questionnaire by submitting only the median LSATs and GPAs of students the school matriculated in the fall of 2005. Don't prejudge Baylor, though. We don't yet know exactly what that school reported to USN&WR, much less why it did so. As I said, I think we will soon get Baylor's own account—and, I hope, some clarity about how the USN&WR rankings actually do, or ideally should, work.

Earlier posts about the 2007 USN&WR law school rankings:

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