SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - The Golden State should resume enforcing new rules that better accommodate disabled LSAT test takers, a California appeals court ruled Monday.
The Law School Admission Council sued
the state a year ago over the implementation of Assembly Bill 2122, which amended the education code to allow law school candidates with disabilities to request special accommodations "to ensure that the LSAT accurately reflects the aptitude, achievement levels, or other factors that the test purports to measure and does not reflect the test subject's disability."
LSAC balked at the requirements, claiming the state singled out the LSAT and ignored other admissions tests. The nonprofit also said the law would prevent law schools from getting "truthful, accurate and non-misleading information about test scores" since information about whether a candidate received extra time or other accommodations would be kept confidential.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Raymond Cadei agreed and issued a preliminary injunction that barred state officials from enforcing the new rules pending trial.
Noting that the rules were apparently aimed solely at LSAC and no other testing agencies, Cadei found that the company could prevail on its claims that the law violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.
A panel for the Third Appellate District in Sacramento reversed Monday, however, finding that the new rules target only LSAC because other testing agencies have already implemented accommodations for disabled test takers.
Specifically, these other agencies do not automatically notify interested schools when test takers are given more time to complete the exams.
"The Legislature appears to have been concerned that LSAC's policies regarding accommodations, unlike those of other test sponsors, placed undue burdens on applicants with disabilities," Judge Andrea Hoch wrote for the panel. "Stated broadly, the purpose is to prevent discrimination. However, the Legislature also appears to have had a more narrow purpose, the prevention of discrimination in the law school admissions process. Throughout the legislative history, the support of the American Bar Association is noted. A fact sheet prepared by former Assembly Member Ricardo Lara explains: 'In response to the small number of individuals with disabilities represented in the legal profession, the ABA Commission on Disability Rights recently passed a unanimous resolution urging entities who administer the LSAT to improve the way it handles accommodation requests from test-takers with disabilities. ... A major contributing factor to the lack of representation of individuals with disabilities in the legal profession can be attributed to the barriers individuals face when taking the LSAT.' The fact sheet then describes LSAC's objectionable policies, i.e., the 'comprehensive assessment report' that 'can cost an individual over $3,000' and the practice of 'flagging' nonstandard test scores, and urges passage of Assembly Bill No. 2122 as a 'solution' to the problem."
Hoch continued: "For purposes of preventing discrimination in the law school admissions process, LSAC is not similarly situated to ETS, College Board, AAMC, or any other standardized testing entity. The reason is simple. No other standardized testing entity sponsors a law school admissions test."
LSAC's free-speech contention also failed to impress the panel, which found that California's interest in preventing disability discrimination may trump LSAC's right to tell prospective law schools that an applicant requested more time to finish the LSAT - if officials can make that case at trial.
"While the state bears the burden of proving the harm caused by flagging at trial, on appeal from the grant of a preliminary injunction, the state need only show the trial court abused its discretion in granting the preliminary injunction," Hoch wrote. "Based on the evidence the state did submit regarding the harm caused by flagging on the SAT, we conclude it would have been an abuse of discretion for the trial court to have found the state would not likely be able to submit sufficient evidence that flagging LSAT scores earned with additional time causes similar harm to prospective law students with disabilities."
Issuing a preliminary injunction requires weighing and balancing the potential harm to both parties involved while the issues get sorted out, the appellate panel noted.
"Because LSAC's likelihood of prevailing on the merits of its free speech claim is, at best, an uncertain proposition, and because the balance of interim harm favors law school applicants with disabilities, we conclude it was an abuse of the trial court's discretion to issue the preliminary injunction," Hoch wrote.