Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Call me skeptical

LSAC, the body responsible for the infamous LSAT, the test most if not all American law schools base their admissions on is in trouble –again. There is another class lawsuit brewing in San Francisco and Justice Department decided to intervene to protect rights of individuals with disabilities. The story is all too familiar- discrimination, denial of accommodations, flagging – all resulting in an unfair result. At least they no longer ask Cerebral Palsy sufferers  to undergo a psychological evaluation. “A matter of time before the citadel falls” said my friend Joshua after I’ve sent him the press release. The day the text came out four different people forwarded me the text within an hour as if it was some great victory. But we have been at this junction before. I’ve had my own share of accommodation- related issues when I was taking the test in 2006 and 2007- as most of my requests were denied. The LSAT administration if I recall correctly was at that time freshly off its five year probation for another set of disability law violations following another class law suit. LSAC was sued, settled, paid some damages, promised to do better but some of the problems continued.  I remember trying to complain to local public interest law firms, ADA offices, even the media that the test makers refuse to grant me the same type of accommodations I’ve been getting all through school. And yet, nobody cared. And yet I thought alone. It’s good to be vindicated, but if anything the press release gives me an uneasy feeling.If Justice Department is able to identify new Plaintiffs, new cases and new forms of discrimination, then it must mean they have known about these practices for a while. They could’ve initiated their own action, but they were sitting on this data waiting for someone to bring a suit? Call me skeptical, but we were here before. Law school admission is to big of an industry for LSAC to let go of it easy. There will be a settlement, possibly a payout and they will agree to make some policy changes- again. Of course nothing will ever change until we take a look at the test itself. I don’t think you can make it work with those accommodations without having some deeper modifications in the system. LSAT is not a test of knowledge. It investigates performance under stress in limited time. Perhaps the time has come to ask how should we select lawyers and what qualities they must possess. Are we interested in robots that do well in training or should we value experience and some understanding of the world. There was a time in America when judges were non lawyers brought in for their perspective and knowledge. Perhaps attorneys should know something about the world that surrounds them rather than have them study for six months for a closed universe one off test on testing skills that they will never use again.

“lawsuit, The Department of Fair Employment and Housing v. LSAC, Inc., et al., charges LSAC with widespread and systemic deficiencies in the way it processes requests by people with disabilities for testing accommodations for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).   As a result, the lawsuit alleges, LSAC fails to provide accommodations where needed to best ensure that those test takers can demonstrate their aptitude and achievement level rather than their disability. 
The department’s proposed complaint identifies additional victims of LSAC’s discriminatory policies and details LSAC’s routine denial of accommodation requests, even in cases where applicants have submitted thorough supporting documentation from qualified professionals and demonstrated a history of testing accommodations. 
The department further alleges that LSAC discriminates against prospective law students with disabilities by unnecessarily “flagging” test scores obtained with certain testing accommodations in a way that identifies the test taker as a person with a disability and discloses otherwise confidential disability-related information to law schools during the admissions process.   LSAC’s practice of singling out persons with disabilities by flagging their scores – essentially announcing to law schools that examinees who exercise their civil right to the testing accommodation of extended time may not deserve the scores they received – is discrimination prohibited by the ADA.   The department’s proposed complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory damages and a civil penalty against LSAC.
“Credentialing examinations, such as the LSAT, are increasingly the gateway to educational and employment opportunities, and the ADA demands that each individual with a disability have the opportunity to fairly demonstrate their abilities so they can pursue their dreams,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “The Justice Department’s participation in this action is critical to protecting the public interest in the important issues raised in this case.”
One of the victims identified in the complaint, for example, has severe visual impairments and previously received special education services at a school for people who are blind.   Even though she provided LSAC with extensive medical documentation of her conditions, as well as proof that she had received testing accommodations since kindergarten, LSAC denied nearly all her requested accommodations, and even refused to provide her a large print test book.   When she tried to appeal the denial, LSAC informed her that she had missed the deadline for reconsideration.   She then reapplied two more times for testing accommodations, resubmitting all the information previously provided to LSAC, as well as additional medical documentation.   Despite her extensive history of receiving the very same testing accommodations throughout her educational career and on standardized tests, and in disregard of the recommendations of a qualified professional, LSAC refused her requested testing accommodations on three separate occasions.
“The action taken in this case demonstrates the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s commitment to ensuring equal access to educational opportunities for everyone,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and by entities that offer examinations or courses related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary education, professional, or trade purposes.   The ADA mandates that testing entities administer examinations in an accessible manner.   This requires testing entities to administer examinations, such as the LSAT, so as to best ensure that, when the examination is administered to a person with a disability, the examination results accurately reflect his or her aptitude or achievement level, or whatever other factor the examination purports to measure, rather than the individual’s disability.   In addition, Title V of the ADA prohibits any entity from coercing, intimidating, threatening, or interfering with an individual’s exercise or enjoyment of a right granted by the ADA.”

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