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22 May 2007

Feds: Brightest not Diverse Enough for Bravest

The US DOJ has filed suit against the FDNY charging that the written exam for screening out candidates is not job related and disqualifies too many minority applicants. As far as whether the test, which was given in 2002, is job relevant they may have a point in that 97.2% of white applicants passed! You've got to wonder what kind of skills such an exam could possibly test for if so many pass. But not so many minorities passed - 92.8% of Hispanic test takers passed while 85.6% of blacks passed. Those are pretty high numbers too, and so the FDNY probably thought they'd hit diversity pay dirt - a written test that minority candidates overwhelmingly pass. In the previous test given in 1999, 90% of white applicants passed while 61.2 % of blacks and 77% of Hispanics passed. Sounds like a big improvement, but statistically the results are only a small improvement. As a result, there wasn't much change in the ethnic make-up of the force. Only about 7.5% of firefighters are black or Hispanic.

Provided it requires some cognitive skills, it's basically impossible to design a written exam that won't show these kinds of disparities in test results. By making the test easier and easier, and eliminating questions that test logical or reasoning skills, as was obviously attempted here, you can close the gap somewhat, but the statistically significant differential, which the DOJ points to here, will remain. The DOJ argues that the test is not relevant to the job, which is about all they could argue at this point, since the test has been designed to be so easy that almost every white applicant passes.

Compare these test results to this analysis of the July 2004 Texas Bar Exam (which I chose because it showed up first in a Google search). Among first time test takers, 85% of whites, 69% of Hispanics and 53% of blacks passed. These results are very nearly statistically identical (measured in terms of z-score differentials) to the 1999 NYC firefighters exam. They also are similar to what we find with the SATs, NAEP assessments* - just about any written test requiring cerebral energy. As la Griffe du Lion has pointed out, it's one of the few things you can count on in the social sciences, but count on it you can.

The best way to get around this (i.e., if an organization wants to avoid getting sued while trying to measure smarts) is via credentialism. CPA's, Actuaries, stock dealers, and many others (including obviously doctors and lawyers) belong to professional societies whose membership requirements involve passing one or more relatively difficult written examinations. Organizations can then post jobs which require membership in these organizations, or a certain amount of progress in attaining it. This leaves the company off the hook for having to justify that the exam these professionals have passed is job related - they merely have to demonstrate that the profession itself is important. No such recourse is available in the case of the FDNY - so they'll have to fight it out in court. Hopefully, if the feds win, they'll prove to be right, or people's lives will be at stake.

* The gaps in standardized tests are usually a bit wider than we see with the Texas Bar exam or the firefighters exams, presumably because they require studying rather than reliance on purely cognitive skills, which levels the field a tad.


Blogger Steve Sailer said...

Oh, man, the DOJ is taking on the ... the New York Fire Department?

All I have to say is one number:


I bet the diversicrats don't even know what that number represents.

May 23, 2007 5:11 PM  
Blogger ziel said...

No, I'm sure they don't. Maybe it's payback for endorsing Kerry.

They haven't released the results of the 2007 test yet - maybe all three groups got 100% passing scores.

May 23, 2007 6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Compare these test results to this analysis of the July 2004 Texas Bar Exam (which I chose because it showed up first in a Google search). Among first time test takers, 85% of whites, 69% of Hispanics and 53% of blacks passed.

The situation is actually far, far, far worse than those numbers would indicate.

The most recent figures for end-of-12th-grade mathematics "proficiency", as measured by the "No Child Left Behind" testing requirements, are as follows:

Asian/Pacific Islander 36%
White 29%
Hispanic 8%
Black 6%
American Indian/Alaska Native 6%


However, if you correct for graduation rates

White 75%
Hispanic 53%
Black 50%
Native American 51%


Then you get the following numbers:

White [0.75] X [0.29] = 0.2175 = 22%
Hispanic [0.53] X [0.08] = 0.424 = 4%
Black [0.50] X [0.06] = 0.03 = 3%
Native American [0.51] X [0.06] = 0.0306 = 3%

Here is an example of "basic" mastery of mathematics:¤t=basic_question.jpg

And here is an example of "proficient" mastery of mathematics:¤t=proficient_question.jpg

Suffice it to say that if the NYFD exam involved even the most trivial algebra problem [e.g. something involving a calculation of water pressure in a hose, or the weight of the hose when empty versus the weight of the hose when filled with water], or the most trivial spatial reasoning [e.g. "Given that the water hydrant is here, and the city block is laid out thusly, and each floor of the building interior is laid out thusly, and your captain wants your team positioned at this point, on the Nth floor, then how many feet of hose will your team require to get to that point?"], then, for all intents and purposes, no Hispanics or Blacks in the general population would be capable of passing the exam.

May 23, 2007 9:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of you are a bunch of racists! Especially you ziel. How dare you question the righteousness of the Justice Department? Not having enough blacks and hispanics in the FDNY is obviously the worst problem the nation is facing today. If innocent people have to die so that whiny, underqualified blacks and hispanics can become 3rd rate firefighters who don't know one end of the hose from another, then that is just a price we will gladly pay for the benefits of diversity and to make certain minorities feel better about themselves while assuaging liberal guilt.

May 24, 2007 11:00 AM  

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