Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming has the right idea. He wants to end a practice most Americans don't know their government ever started - "race norming" of employment test scores.
Used by the U.S. Labor Department for the past decade, race norming is a clear-cut case of reverse discrimination. Yet it is deliberately hidden from public view. The practice consists of raising the test scores of blacks and Hispanics to improve their chance of being hired.Here is how it works. Suppose that three applicants, a black, a Hispanic and an "other" (a white or Asian), seek work in the same job classification. They all take the General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB), the test used by many state employment services. All three score 300 on the test.
Those raw scores are converted into percentiles before the applicants and potential employers see them. But instead of being ranked against a control group of all test takers, the scores are segregated by race and ranked "within group."
The percentiles are then sent out to employers without mention of the applicants' race. The black's 300 is reported as 83rd percentile, the Hispanic's 300 as 67th percentile and the white or Asian's as 45th percentile. Neither applicant nor employer is aware that the "conversion" has taken place.
Sen. Simpson's bill would make it unlawful for employers to adjust the results of ability tests in a way that discriminates by race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
Interestingly, big companies will probably oppose the Wyoming Republican. Major employers often support the quiet use of race norming because it helps them comply with an executive order requiring federal contractors to use affirmative action.
Some civil rights advocates and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences have offered pseudo-scientific justifications for tampering with test scores.
Yet Scripps Howard News Service reports that numerous studies show the GATB to be useful in predicting job success and not racially biased. The reality is that the decision to favor some minorities is strictly a political choice.
It's plainly a choice that should be publicly aired, not put over on unsuspecting citizens. Sen. Simpson is launching a needed debate.