Firefighter Promotions Case for Test Renewal

The New Haven Fire Department destroyed test results of white firefighters who scored higher than African Americans to allow promotions among black firefighters. This troublesome case, and research proofs that high stakes tests don’t work,  raises the question How can tests garner more intelligence-fair results?

This serious case also opens an opportunity to identify the key problem with testing practices today. More importantly, how can tests value all people’s genuine brainpower and predict their offerings at work and beyond.

Unfair tests not only create racism but they also leave highly gifted people behind. In my 1999 book Student Assessment that Works – a Practical Approach,  I showed how Einstein was said to fail his grade eight math test and was kicked out of school for not paying attention.

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Check out Brain Friendly Test Opportunities in Posts Below:

1. No Brain Left Behind

Intelligence-fair tests create opportunities for people to reach similar high standards through different approaches, thereby enabling people to capitalize on their unique mental proclivities.

2. Death of Education – Dawn of Learning

Intelligence-fair tests may mean the end of the current test industry and the the beginning of building intelligent communities across differences.

3. Brain Parts Promote or Stomp out Change

Intelligence-fair tests require us to take advantage of recent neuro discoveries and identify what brain parts promote learning and growth, as well as avoid tests that stomp out change.

4. Secondary and University with Brains in Mind

Intelligence-fair tests could replace failed learning settings, with vibrant innovation that benefits entire communities.

5. Parents’ Brains Belong at Secondary School

Intelligence-fair tests invites opportunities to intelligently engage and learn from many people who were disadvantaged by unfair tests that poorly represented their capabilities in past.

6. Renew with the Brain in Mind

Intelligence-fair tests could become the engine that helps universities and secondary schools to renew and shape their futures  with the brain more in mind.

7. Call for Simplicity that Adds IntelligenceIntelligence-fair tests call for an honesty of words, and an integrity of intention that shows genuine mental proclivity across different backgrounds.

8. A Brain Based Dream

Intelligence-fair tests could raise low morale that comes with testing unfairly. Test a squirrel for swimming, an eagle for climbing rock walls or a fish for climbing and chart their lives on your scores, to see how unfair tests can ignore unique capabilities to approach heights differently.

9. Talker or Brain Based Mentor at University?

Intelligence-fair tests will foster newly discovered solutions to stubborn problems, all because of new entry points opened by creative thinkers.

10. Myths that Shape Secondary Schools (2)

Intelligence-fair tests will help people to live realities with high performance minds, rather than according to myths created before neuro-discoveries transformed harmful myths.

11. Secondary Schools for Higher Achievement (1)

Intelligence-fair tests will return vibrancy and relevancy to currently failing secondary schools, where one way is said to fit all minds.

Intelligence-fair tests will alter strategies in secondary schools, so that all learners find opportunities to develop mental acumen for brighter futures in the real world they’ll face.

13. Expect Neuron Pathways to Dynamic Solutions

Intelligence-fair tests require that experts move away from lectures and toward meaningful active engagement of learners’ neurons and dendrites to spark new synapses for finer solutions.

14. Question Broken Systems with Solutions in Mind

Intelligence-fair tests will cause people to question broken systems – but with intelligent solutions in mind, rather than from a cynical stance that stirs more complaints than creativity.

15. Universities in Crisis

Intelligence-fair tests could restore relevancy to many universities that researchers warn are currently bubbles about to burst. —–

Intelligence-fair tests could well awaken universities with learning once again at the center in ways that support ongoing renewal.

17. Retention Lost in Lectures

Intelligence-fair tests would offer the rationale and suggest learning approaches that avoid boring lectures in favor of active discoveries that engage a fuller range of intelligences.

18. Engage Voices on the Other Side

Intelligence-fair tests would invite more brilliant voices to inform us all on the other side of issues, and help human brains from defaulting to ruts within brains and from narrow experiences.

19. Marks of Brainpowered Workplaces

Intelligence-fair tests would alter workplaces to add refreshing opportunities for those interested in ratcheting up their IQ a notch or two.

Would you agree that intelligence-fair assessments would also: Reinvigorate Brains for Learning Dividends, Move Leaders to Replace Broken Systems, Add Brainpower to Disagree and Prosper Peace, Offer a New Run at Old Runways with Space for Renewal?

To Help Create Intelligence-Fair Tests – Join Aug 17 – 21st  MITA Brain Institute here.

15 thoughts on “Firefighter Promotions Case for Test Renewal

  1. Pingback: Renewal Races Teens to the Top – Brain Leaders and Learners

  2. eweber Post author

    Thanks for the insights Wally, it appears to me that from what you say here — the process is best, when it covers a wider array of experiences. It also appears that you are advocating some rather generic items on a test — and other items that are more germane to each person.

    That is also a very similar route assessment took in my PhD program. First there is a series of comprehensive exams which show proficiency across the wide issues related to one’s degree. Then – for those who make that cut there is a thesis to research and write, After completion of the work (which includes theory and application) – there is an exchange with experts in the field of study.

    Here again one is asked general knowledge questions, as well as facts and details germane to the candidate’s study just completed.

    Assessment – when done well – takes a great deal of thought – and should also have a clear purpose. Perhaps we should all be better versed in what it means to evaluate another person? In the MITA Model assessment is an integral part of learning. Would you agree that finer assessments would likely yield finer realities beyond the test? Any shortcomings you have suggestions for in the promotional tests you described so well here?

  3. Wally Bock

    Robyn’s point about how “Sometimes paper and pencil tests miss actual performance abilities. …” and her comments about memorization called me back to add some insight (I hope) on how public safety agency promotional processes are different from those in the private sector.

    The public safety testing processes are quite different that any private sector company I’ve ever seen. There is usually more than one component to the assessment, but there’s always a written exam, thanks to the Civil Service Act.

    There is a lot that needs to be memorized because a supervisor or command officer in a police or fire department needs to know department-specific policies, city-specific polices, fire and health and safety codes, and specific material relevant to the job. In the case of a fire lieutenant that includes hazmat knowledge and fire science.

    In many promotional processes, the written exam is used as the first hurdle on the track. Those who do not pass the exam or those who do not score above a certain level to not go on.

    Some agencies, more on the West Coast, also have an Assessment Center where candidates are expected to perform job-related tasks and are graded on their performance. In the better processes these are more realistic.

    Almost all agencies have a Promotion Board that conducts an interview with every candidate who has passed the written. In the better processes the Board has a list of question to ask every candidate. They also ask each candidate some unique questions based on their work history and performance on the written exam and assessment center. Those seeking promotion are ranked based on performance on all the areas of the promotional process.

    In many departments the agency chief has some discretion in whom to promote. Usually that’s expressed as a “rule of [number].” If the agreement with the union specifies a “rule of three,” for example, the chief must pick one of the top three scoring candidates, but he or she can pick any one of those three.

    I haven’t researched what the full process was in New Haven, but I know that public safety and the military usually do a lot more to assess the promotability of people than the private sector.

  4. eweber Post author

    Conrad, the insight is for me also. It’s so much easier to skirt the real issues, toss symptoms around, and name problems – than to suggest alternatives that work well – and that address problems we’ve observed. Thanks for fine offerings you make in that area:-)

  5. Conrad

    “In this case people are fighting about the symptoms.”

    Wow, Ellen, you just caused an insight to come into clear focus for me! Fighting over the symptoms is EXACTLY what we do so often.

    Thank you.

  6. eweber Post author

    Jim, what I love about your vibrant reflection is that it lives and shows what can happen through tests that were geared to help promote growth!

    Would you agree that learners at every developmental level in a learning circle – if they are offered tools – can also teach others from what they already do know!

    You mentioned fear — which results from many of the tests we currently support – and since we know the power of the brain’s amygdala to shut down through forces like fear — it should shock us that we allow it for teens.

    Jim, as to your deep question — I believe people like YOU will help to lead us into the era you described so accurately.

    For my part – I am running the first Brain Institute in my own area – where I will meet with secondary school leaders to create, use and help students to collaborate on MITA tests with the brain in mind. These tests will accomplish what you see listed in this post – so that learners’ differences will be rewarded and so they will reach similar high standards by very different intelligences (approaches).

    Faculty and experts can often describe ineffective tests – but when we create effective tests that add motivation and achievement for all teens – we step with learners into a new reality. A reality you and I both value and one that differs enough to inspire the rest of us across ethnicity.

    Thanks Jim for your leadership, your wisdom, and the way you create caring yet challenging communities to move ideas forward with a new zip! What else could leaders and learners ask for?

  7. JD

    Hi Ellen, IQ should measure the capacity to learn and not what has been learned. Many disadvantaged groups through poor sub par schools and living conditions will score lower on standardized testing. There are scholars that proclaim that such test are bias and unfair to Blacks and other affinity groups.

    We all have the capacity to learn and will learn if given encouragement and support. Often times for some the venue of standard testing is a unfriendly environment which can add to fear.

    Testing represents one data point and should not be an eliminator unless we know all tested individuals have the same opportunity for success.

    Clearly the New Haven example, represents a flawed exercise and no one except for extreme racist would think a test would provide all of one race failing and all of another race passing.

    In this day and age we need renaissance leaders to change standard testing so that no one group would enjoy built in advantages over another.

    Ellen perhaps you can expand on what the educational community will do in the future as the US becomes more and more diversified to ensure that testing can accurately measure true capacity for learning regardless of one ethnicity.

  8. eweber Post author

    Conrad, great to see you. No way foolish – yet it’s really how lucky we are:-) to have you weigh in. Your comment raises the excellent point that when we create poor tests – people are often devalued rather than supported.

    Your two points are so spot on – and thanks for highlighting the effects of these tests.

    Conrad – it’s also interesting to me that when the foundations are flawed (such as tests that firefighters took) then other problems arise. In this case people are fighting about the symptoms.

    Hopefully we’ll fix the tests soon, and put the fires out for good by testing all more fairly.

  9. Conrad

    Ellen – it’s been a long time since I’ve come to your site. How foolish I am!

    It seems that we are doing a poor job in understanding intelligence in so many ways. Intelligence-fair assessments are so important in at least two ways that I can think of:
    1. Finding the best people for certain tasks.
    2. Finding the best tasks for certain people.

    I think Robyn is right on with the concern about teaching to the test and also about testing memorization. It seems that the more we “standardize” tests, the cost is in relevance. It seems much more difficult to me to standardize the testing of critical thinking.

  10. eweber Post author

    Yes — how true Robyn and all! Yet it’s scary when ignored!

    Skewed results impact lives far beyond tests — and a flawed system works against the very brains it hoped to serve. Do I hear the urgent cry for TEST RENEWAL WITH THE BRAIN IN MIND?

  11. Robyn McMaster

    Sometimes paper and pencil tests miss actual performance abilities. Since interpretation of questions often skews the ways individuals answer questions, my thought is that a portion of any test should be performance of actual skills in real life. This might be done by a committee selected to rate each person.

    Is a test merely to see how much a person memorizes? My daughter wondered how much she was learning in a college Spanish class since she could easily memorize all the words and rules connected with parts of speech for the test, but she forgot them within a few days.

    There are so many aspects to testing that people do not ordinarily think about.

  12. eweber Post author

    Wally, your questions always hit to the core of issues – and this one is no exception!

    I’m not for school based tests per se unless they are proven to be more intelligence fair. Nor am I against all standarized tests – unless they test unfairly:-)

    Instead I am for tests that engage all intelligences fairly, show real world solutions, act as learning tools for growth, and factor in amazing neuro discoveries that benefit more students and lead to quality outcomes.

    Rather than any testing industry driving the tests we use — I’d rather see them come from think tanks with people like you at the table!

    At the Aug Brain Institute we will develop secondary school tests for all fields represented there – where there is a clear set of criteria used by both learners who do assessment tasks and by faculty who score assessment tasks. That is what I believe promote learning across differences:-)


  13. Wally Bock

    Ellen, I’d love to know what you think about a difference between school-based testing and academic tests such as SAT and vocational testing such as the firefighter example. In the latter there is a clearly defined body of knowledge and also, usually, a specific set of test materials including specific department regulations, policies and procedures and other defined materials, usually specific books.

    It seems to me like that sort of vocational testing should be far less likely to be subject to the kind of intrinsic racial bias you describe on broader academic tests.

  14. eweber Post author

    Robyn, you hit the nail on the head – or I should say you hit many tests in their flaw area. Imagine the powerful communities we will build across differences when we reconfigure tests to garner intelligent fair scores!

    I see more genius power being released too and that brainpower alone can help us out of ruts we create from stalemate practices! Thanks for the insights Robyn!

    It’s a new day for those who create tests that measure genuine brainpower -= and refuse to play to outmoded myths about what it means to be intelligent in anything we test!

    Do you agree?

  15. Robyn McMaster

    Ellen, during my recent PhD work, I participated in a longitudinal study of testing at the high school level as it involved high stakes testing, as this test did. When stakes are high, internal factors such as nerves often skew results for many people. Something many do not realize is that teachers begin to “teach to the test” when the stakes are high and they lose the “joy of facilitating” learning and fall back on lectures. I interviewed many high school teachers and heard this from their perspective.

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