Race Bias #7 - "Race Norming"

When European-Americans take employment skills tests, they are scored differently than other groups. They seldom realize that this is the case.

Race norming is the practice of giving every applicant for employment the same skills test, but then grading the test differently depending on the applicant's race.

The test is "normed" for the race of the taker by adding points to the score of any minority applicant equal to the difference between the average result for European-Americans and the average result for the minority group of which the test taker is a member.

It may surprise you to know that even tests measuring hand-eye coordination must be race normed!!!

Everyone inside and outside of government admits that higher scoring whites are likely to be much more productive employees than lower scoring whites. They admit also that higher scoring blacks and hispanics will be more productive than lower scoring blacks and hispanics.

Before the advent of affirmative action, most companies used to hire employees without requiring skill tests. But the new-found popularity of tests raises fascinating questions:

Has affirmative action caused a loss in productivity that has driven employers to administer tests as a means of compensating for that loss?

Does this need for higher skill and productivity levels among Euro-Americans and Asians mean that members of those groups must now work harder and smarter to compensate for the effects of affirmative action?

In other words, are there costs of affirmative action that are imposed not only on the unsuccessful white job applicants, but the successful ones as well?

Now if anyone were to accuse employers of doing such a thing, many of you would be inclined not to believe it. So, I have reprinted excerpts from an article from the Wall Street Journal that describes the practice.

Philip Morris is a believer in "Race Normed" tests that discriminate against European-Americans. Remember that the next time you are tempted to buy a pack of Marlboro cigarettes or Miller Beer.


Apr. 26, 1991 Wall Street Journal, p B1

Job Tests Scored On Racial Curve Stir Controversy


WASHINGTON -- Question: Should scores on job-placement tests be adjusted to account for an applicant's race?

Answer: In some instances, they already are. For more than a decade, hundreds of companies have been hiring workers partly on the basis of test scores that are "race- normed," or ranked on a percentile basis in comparison only with the performance of others in the same ethnic group. This practice has stirred some controversy, but the debate generally has been confined to a small band of experts in corporate personnel departments and various state and federal agencies.

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Supporters of race-norming say unadjusted test results don't accurately predict job performance. Charles Stephen Ralston, a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York, defends race-norming as a "necessary tool" that "corrects for the bias that's in the test."

But even some supporters of race-norming say it can compromise hiring standards. "When you adjust the test scores, you're passing people who are less qualified," says Charles Wonderlic Jr., vice president of E.F. Wonderlic Personnel Test Inc., Northfield, Ill., which sells tests that can be race-normed. The use of race-norming has been shrouded in secrecy. Companies are reluctant to discuss their race-norming policies, possibly fearing they will attract reverse discrimination lawsuits.

Officials at various state employment services, which administer what is probably the most widely used race-normed test, offer only sketchy details about how businesses have fared using race-norming. The officials cite either a lack of information or a need to protect the confidentiality of the companies to which they refer job applicants.

"Our feedback is that employers are very satisfied," says Tom Chesar, supervisor of test research for New Jersey's state employment service.

The trend toward race-norming has been led by the Labor Department, which has worked closely with state employment services to match job seekers with private sector jobs. To screen job applicants, the state agencies have used the General Aptitude Test Battery, or GATB, a Job-skills test developed by the department more than 10 years ago.

The GATB measures a potential employee's hand-eye coordination as well as his or her cognitive skills in such areas as arithmetic, reasoning and vocabulary. Before 1981, race wasn't a factor in calculating the scores. Since then, however, many states have had the option of scoring the GATB on the basis of how well an individual performs compared with others in the same ethnic group. Test takers are placed in one of four categories: black, Hispanic, Native American and "other."

Labor Department officials say people who score well on the GATB tend to be successful on the job, a view backed by a 1989 report from the National Academy of Sciences. But when the agency moved to expand the use of the test in the early 1980s, it feared the results would discriminate against blacks and Hispanics.

"Whites on the whole perform above Hispanics, Hispanics above blacks, Asians above all three groups," says Robert Litman, deputy director of the Labor Department's U.S. Employment Service. If employers hired solely on the basis of raw GATB scores, says Mr. Litman, "we would be discriminating significantly" along ethnic lines.

To avoid potential discrimination, the Labor Department began a race-norming pilot program that eventually spread to 44 states. "I don't know that there ever was a policy decision" to proceed, says one Labor Department official.

* * *

Mr. Wonderlic says race-norming isn't for everybody. "It's really the larger companies, where they want to meet affirmative-action goals," that are likeliest to race-norm, he says. A spokesman for Philip Morris Cos., New York, says the company uses race norming because it is "one way we have of recruiting qualified minority candidates for jobs."

Employment specialists say race-norming can help companies avoid so-called disparate-impact civil rights cases charging that an employment test is an indirect form of discrimination, because a normed test is theoretically bias-free. Race-norming has also been imposed by the courts as a legal remedy in some employment-discrimination lawsuits and has been pushed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (though the commission is currently split over whether to allow race-norming ).

But some opponents of race-norming argue that it can be deceptive. Many employers, they charge. are unaware that a black applicant's GATB score of 85% - may not reflect the same test performance as a white or Hispanic's score of 85%.

A Labor Department official says states have made an "honest effort" to notify employers who use GATB about the race-norming, but "saying something and having that message comprehended are two different things."

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