One of the most difficult choices a college student with a disability can make is to embark on a competitive and demanding career that involves postgraduate education, such as attending law school. What makes that decision even more difficult is the fact that the testing process to get into law school requires a standardized test such as the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), which often provides a barrier to students with ADHD and executive functioning challenges. Standardized high-stakes testing does not effectively show who will be a successful attorney or doctor, but poor scores can be an insurmountable barrier.
Even more unfortunate is that the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), the organization that administers the LSAT, is among the most difficult to agree to reasonable testing accommodations that are authorized by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Despite the ADA, the LSAC continues to require that students provide an updated evaluation, costing several thousand dollars (which students are required to pay for themselves), and copies of every single IEP or 504 plan that the students have ever had, which requires amassing hundreds of pages of documentation going back fifteen to twenty years or longer. In addition to these stringent requirements, this process can take six months or longer with little or no transparency. As a result, many students decide to forego accommodations that they need based upon their disability, or drop out of the process because of its difficulty.
To add insult to injury, if a student rides out the process and is lucky enough to receive accommodations from the LSAC, the LSAC then flags that student’s test score and reports to the law schools that the student received testing accommodations and that “scores earned under nonstandard time conditions do not have the same meaning as scores earned under standard time conditions, so these scores are identified as nonstandard.” This process flags not only that the student has a disability and hence requires accommodations, but that the student’s scores are essentially invalid. In addition to completely nullifying the accommodations that the student fought so hard for, the practice is highly discriminatory. It is so discriminatory, in fact, that nearly all other high-stakes testing organizations have discontinued the practice of flagging accommodated scores for tests such as the SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, etc. Moreover, the practice is so discriminatory that the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights adopted a formal resolution to urge the LSAC to discontinue this practice and to provide more transparency into the process by which accommodations are requested and to streamline the turnaround time. At each turn, the LSAC has refused to modify their procedures.
California Assemblyman Ricardo Lara recently drafted legislation (AB 2122 Lara) to prohibit the practice of flagging test scores and for the LSAC to adopt a more transparent and streamlined practice to process requests for testing accommodations. This legislation was fiercely opposed by the LSAC. However, students with disabilities have a voice through organizations such as the Edge Foundation, CHADD, and many others who partnered to offer letters of support for this legislation. Initially this support was helpful in the bill receiving unanimous bipartisan support in committee.
On Wednesday, April 18, 2012, the bill was on the California State Assembly floor for a vote and again received opposition from the LSAC. Through the efforts of attorneys, advocates and organizations such as the Edge Foundation, CHADD, and many others, the legislation passed by an overwhelming majority (65-6). The bill now heads to the California Senate Higher Education Committee. It must pass the committee, then pass on the Senate floor, and will then need to be signed into law by the governor. The disability community that has been supporting the bill is expecting renewed opposition from the LSAC, which believes that accommodations give a student an unfair advantage and cannot appreciate that for a student with disabilities, accommodations are not an advantage but a means to level the playing field.
I have been a successful practicing attorney for over twenty years. I am also an adult diagnosed with ADHD. I can say from my own personal experience and that of many of my colleagues that my poor score on the LSAT was not at all reflective of my intelligence, ability, and my passion to advocate for my clients. We in the disability community now have the opportunity, and I believe the obligation, to provide a voice for those students with disabilities who want to become agents of change. This bill and the issue go way beyond ADHD, affecting all students with disabilities who need accommodations to receive the same opportunities that students without disabilities. This right is guaranteed by federal law, and hopefully by state law in California.
Support students with disabilities and show your support for this legislation. We will keep you posted as AB 2122 moves through the Senate.
Robert M. Tudisco, Esq., is executive director of the Edge Foundation.
Thank you! I'm a mom who's had a long day looking up information to help prepare for an upcoming IEP meeting.
Your article helped me to keep going.
Amen! College undergrads can get accommodations but even then they still struggle and disability status is not considered as a mitigating factor when a student has trouble keeping up GPA and becomes academically disqualified. With budget cuts the students with ADHD and LD are being forced out as schools tighten admission and reinstatement decisions.
Lawyers are supposed to be creative problem solvers. Most people with ADHD are extremely creative problem solvers. And even for ADHD test takers with higher than average IQ, it is still very difficult to become a lawyer if you have ADHD, due to all the conventional testing barriers. I do not think anyone would disagree with me, in that the LSAT does not measure creative intelligence whatsoever. This oversight has prevented a lot of potential intelligent creative legal brains from entering the profession. That is very unfortunate. I think this quote says it in a nutshell:
"Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted." ~ Albert Einstein
Thank you for bring this issue to the forefront. I went through this exact struggle scored poorly several times and eventually started law school by commuting from one state to another each week. Needless to say at the end of the first semester I left and was diagnosed with ADHD. I have hopes of returning one day and with your continued efforts maybe my dream will finally come true and there will be help and hope for others. Thank you!
Where is the federal LAWSUIT that this calls for? It appears LSAT folk are blatantly violating ADA simply because they can and nobody is fighting them where it counts -- IN federal COURT. Why? To try and change each individual state's laws in order to gain accommodations seems bassackwards and inefficient to this non-lawyer who knows little about the legal/court route to justice in this case. So please explain why the federal courts aren't being used FIRST.
Thank you for your article. Just one correction, it's the ABA Commission on Disability Right.
This does not account for whether medication adequately compensates already. If drugs already raise ones level of ability to the standard or above, then giving more time is indeed unfair. This is exacerbated by the fact that most drugs prescribed for the treatment of ADD also increase the testing abilities of those who do not have the condition. Adderall is presently a black market commodity in most schools.
Perhaps a better solution is an option. Either you take the test w/out medication and get extra time, or you take it with medication and you get the same time as everyone else.
As a law student that has been diagnosed with ADHD I am insulted by your premise that we are a disabled group that needs help.
First, there are substantial scholarly criticisms as to its over-diagnosis. Any person smart enough to consider law school is smart enough to go to Wikipedia, learn the symptoms of ADHD, get a fake diagnosis, and PRESTO they now have an edge on all their peers who are playing by the rules. Oh, this doesn't happen you say? You are obviously way too old to know that any kid knows half a dozen people in their school who fake the disorder to get a fake prescription so that they can sell the pills. Yes, this happens. Sorry to ruin your naive sense of the world.
Second, Lawyers are bound by ethical standards not to overbill their clients. I am positive that a client will not accept being billed double time in order to accommodate the needs of someone that is not able to perform the same as their peers. A court sure as heck will not coddle people with ADHD who fails to meet a filing deadline because they get distracted and need special help.
I refuse to accept special accommodations as avoidance of a problem is no way to deal with it. I live my life the way everybody else does, and despite your labeling me as "disabled" I did just fine on my LSAT without special accommodations, and am doing just fine in Law School without special accommodations.
Kindly keep your laws to yourself, us needy and "disabled" students are doing just fine without you.
People with cognitive or other executive disabilities should be subject to the same requirements as anyone else. If you have a lawyer rushing the deadline on your case, how do you think that disability is going to affect their performance? Accommodating a cognitive disability defeats the purpose of standardized testing- that is, to create an intellectual hierarchy. Life is not fair. There will be winners and losers. A person's ability to perform within a time limit should be objective and not subject to special exemptions for cognitive disabilities.
I agree, reasonable accommodations are due to people with ADHD. But I have a few issues with what you said as well.
1. The LSAC requirements for proving existence and persistence of ADHD are not as unreasonable as you present them. ADHD persists, according to one study, in about 60 percent of people diagnosed with it as children (though it's important to remember that it only affects a small percentage of children to begin with). This means 40 percent of young people will no longer meet the requirements for diagnosis by adulthood. Requiring a recent test to confirm that the disorder has persisted, and requiring some paperwork to prove proper diagnosis of the disorder to begin with seems perfectly fair. We don't want people who no longer have the disorder claiming that they do and benefiting from it. This is unfair to all test-takers, and I believe it is offensive to people who legitimately live with ADHD.
2. If, in certain cases, medication compensates for or eliminates symptoms and disadvantages that the test taker would otherwise suffer, then additional time becomes an advantage for that person. Although not all instances of ADHD are effectively treated by medication, some are. To be truly non-discriminatory, the LSAC would need a way to determine to what extent a particular person's performance is impacted by the combination of this disorder and effective treatment of it, in order to give them an appropriate amount of additional time. Otherwise, it seems we're overcompensating and putting others at a relative disadvantage.
3. The LSAC, from a statistical perspective, is perfectly justified in flagging these scores taken under modified conditions. To give a proper image of how ADHD diagnosed people perform on tests, they would need a curve for people who took the test under modified conditions, and they'd need to reconcile it with those of regular test-takers (in other words, an adjusted curve that is normalized). Do sufficient samples exist to make this a reality? At any rate, the reality is that the scores do not fit into the LSAC's statistical model at this time.
I believe we want to strive for a true, meritocratic system. Clearly, the LSAC needs to improve the way they handle disabilities, and could do with a dose of transparency and feedback for test takers. On the other hand, the LSAC must be vigilant and strive to balance the unique needs of those who suffer from disabilities with the needs of those who do not.
I am an adult law student who has been officially diagnosed (expensive test) with ADD. I took the LSAT regularly. Was it harder for me? Better believe it, sometimes I had to re-read questions MULTIPLE times before I actually comprehended what it said. If you can't take the test regularly and score well because of ADD/ADHD, you shouldn't go to law school...something the LSAC obviously agrees with.
Giving extra time to people with ADD/ADHD will get people into law school that don't deserve to be, the whole POINT of the test is thinking fast, that's why the LSAC isn't going to change it's policy.
Is the judge going to amend the Federal Civil Procedure rules and give you extra time to get your brief in? Not a chance in hell. Is your boss going give you an extra half week for your office memo? Hell no! Life isn't going to accommodate for you, neither should the LSAC. It would be setting people up for epic failure. My opinions are restricted to ADD/ADHD by the way.
email@example.com - If you want to argue about this. Please don't bother though if you don't know how the LSAT works.
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