When Congress enacted the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, it reflected a national consensus in favor of equal opportunity for all Americans. It was intended to unify, not divide us, and it remains a force for good in America today.
Sadly, some are turning away from the unifying principle of equal opportunity in an effort to achieve some sort of ethnic spoils system based on a statistical profile of the work force. The ideal of color blindness has been replaced by color consciousness with ethnic heritage thrown in for good measure.How's this for a job seeker's nightmare? A young college graduate drops into her local state employment service office. These state agencies screen about 20 million job applicants a year on behalf of private sector employers.
She is asked to take a standardized test, commonly know as the General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB). Our graduate does well on the test and, in fact, scores higher than any other applicant. However, because some of the others taking the test are from racial or ethnic minority groups, their reported scores are deliberately adjusted upwards - sometimes by as much as 40 percentage points - when final results are computed.
For our graduate, who happens to be white, the result of this practice becomes painfully clear when she finds herself not receiving job referrals from the employment service - referrals that are instead going to someone with a doctored test score. What's more, employers are never informed that the test scores of prospective employees have been altered.
Since 1981, imaginative bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Labor have been encouraging states to use a method of standardized test scoring, know as "within group norming." Everyone takes the same test, but "norming" automatically awards bonus points to members of certain groups based on their ethnicity.
To me, this subterranean scoring system is inconsistent with the spirit of a law that is supposed to guarantee equal employment opportunity. It is a before-the-fact quota system, that unfairly discriminates against some while patronizing those who are Hispanic or African-American.
When the House Judiciary Committee recently considered the proposed civil rights bill, H.R. 1, I offered an amendment aimed at outlawing this practice. Under my amendment, it would be a violation of federal law for any employer, employment agency or state employment service to alter or adjust the scores on objective tests used in evaluating current or prospective employees, where those score changes are based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
Incredibly, my amendment was defeated by straight party-line vote, 21-13. All Democrats on the committee voted against my amendment and all Republicans voted for it. One Democrat expressed indignation that I was interfering with what he characterized as a "regulatory matter." Another Democrat defensively called test norming a "very sticky, difficult issue."
Martin Luther King once dreamed of an America where individuals would be judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Changing scores on employment tests to favor a particular racial or ethnic group is the antithesis of that proud dream.
It is my hope that when the civil rights bill is considered, possibly later this month, by the House of Representatives my colleagues will join with me and vote for "truth in testing."
(Rep. Hyde, an Illinois Republican, is a member of the House Judiciary Committee.)