The Law School Admission Council has agreed to end its decades-long practice of "flagging" the test scores of disabled test takers who receive extra time to complete its standardized test for law-school admission.
The council also committed, as part of a proposed consent decree filed on Tuesday in a federal court, to pay $7.73-million in penalties and damages to more than 6,000 people who requested accommodations on the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, over the past five years.
The agreement seeks to resolve a lawsuit brought by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and three individual test takers, and by the U.S. Department of Justice, which intervened in the California case in 2012.
The Justice Department released a statement on Tuesday saying the changes the council had agreed to make would end "widespread and systemic discrimination" against disabled test takers.
According to the statement, the council routinely denied testing accommodations "even in cases where applicants have a permanent physical disability or submitted thorough supporting documentation from qualified professionals and demonstrated a history of testing accommodations since childhood."
The council also agreed to automatically grant most accommodation requests if applicants had been allowed to use a similar arrangement for another standardized postsecondary admissions test.
The Justice Department also criticized the council’s practice of notifying law schools when applicants had been given extra time on the test. Doing so signals that those individuals are disabled and unfairly stigmatizes them, the department said.
Applicants must pass the LSAT to be admitted to any law school in the United States that is accredited by the American Bar Association. "If entered by the court, this decree will impact tens of thousands of Americans with disabilities, opening doors to higher education that have been unjustly closed to them for far too long," said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Not an Admission of Guilt
The council disputed the Justice Department’s characterization of its practices, which it says are fair.
"We decided to resolve this case not because we believe that we were wrong in our position but because we do not think that continued litigation is in the best interests of our member schools or prospective law-school students," the council said in a written statement. The consent decree also points out that the agreement "should in no way be considered evidence of guilt or liability" by the council.
The council said the Department of Justice had approved the forms that disabled applicants have been submitting for more than a decade to request additional time on the test. The department also helped craft the language the council uses to notify students about the accommodations, the council said.
And the department has been aware of the council’s policy of annotating, or flagging, test scores since at least 1986, the council said. "It would have been more appropriate, and more productive for all concerned," the council said, "for DOJ to change its views through a traditional notice-and-comment period" that included all affected parties.
Two years ago, the American Bar Association criticized the practice of flagging scores and called on the council to speed up its response to testing-accommodation requests. The council has resisted such pressure, suing California last year over a state law that prevents the group from notifying law schools when disabled test takers are permitted extra time on the LSAT.
On Tuesday the ABA released a statement supporting the agreement.
The Justice Department said that anyone who applied for testing accommodations from the council from January 1, 2009, to the court’s entry of the consent decree may be eligible for a monetary award from a nationwide victim-compensation fund.