Merit Matters Press Release
February 27th, 2012
On March 15, 2012 the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) is scheduled to begin holding testing sessions for the FDNY entry test. Due to the reasons listed below we are very concerned about the integrity of this test.
In 1992 an official with the Department of Personnel (which was renamed DCAS), John Castellenata, stated that FDNY entry tests were geared toward “factors which would enable minority and women applicants to compete for and enhance their chances of being considered for positions as firefighters”.
In 1994 a 5 point city residency credit was retroactively established for a test that was given two years earlier for the express purpose of increasing minority and female representation.
In 2006 changes were made to the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) program manual that were “designed to increase the rate at which female firefighter candidates pass the test” according to a letter from Harold Schaitberger, President of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).
In January of this year the FDNY Vulcan Society was granted permission to visit the homes of black applicants who had submitted incomplete applications in order to allow them to re-submit their applications - 4 months after the application period ended. Merit Matters had become aware of this effort before Christmas and while we don’t think anyone should be allowed a “do-over”, if one group is all should be. Our offer to visit all applicants, regardless of race, on a voluntary basis was rejected. As a result, one group - and one group only - was afforded special treatment.
The foregoing examples - which only begin to scratch the surface of the extensive and expensive efforts engaged in by NYC to integrate the FDNY - when coupled with the seemingly illegal (and definitely offensive) requirement that applicants indicate their race and gender when applying for the test - raise a troubling question: will the version of the computer based test presented to candidates when they log in to take it be determined by the race or gender of the candidate?
To those unaware, because this test is scheduled to be given over a 5 week period different versions are being prepared. Considering the pressure brought to bear by the lawsuit, the examples given above and the fact that development of this test has been put in the hands of a Special Master appointed by a judge that has a seeming bias towards the FDNY we believe our concerns are reasonable and valid.
Be assured, this is not our only concern regarding this test. Even with different versions of it the general nature of the questions will become known shortly after testing begins, which gives those taking it after the first week or two a distinct advantage. How will the schedule be decided? Who has to go early on, and who gets to go towards the end of the testing period? Numerous reports revealed that control of cell phones and other electronic devices did not occur during the last test, which was held on one day in public schools - this test will be held for 5 weeks in numerous locations (even out of state, and in at least one example a bar!). How will integrity be assured?
As of this writing the method and manner of scoring has not been announced. Will it be announced before testing begins? One portion of the test concerns the background information of candidates - how will this subjective information be scored? A police department test in our area that the Department of Justice was also involved in assigned more weight to a candidate that only had two years of college as compared to someone with a degree - will this type of nonsensical manipulation of scores occur here? Or will Special Master Mary Jo White avoid unpleasant questions like this by being upfront about the method of scoring before testing begins?
There are some things about the test that we do know. According to the on-line tutorial, a Training Guide will be provided. Will there be only one version of this Guide (which will, again, benefit those candidates going later in the testing period) or are different versions planned, perhaps one for each version of the test? During a few points in the tutorial the narrator asks if the candidates “recall” certain information, but “recall” is not necessary as candidates can take notes before answering questions and then refer to those notes while answering questions. The alliterative term for this is “cheat sheet”. I can only theorize that since (according to the judge) reading comprehension ability is not required for firefighting, neither is recall. If new firefighters will not be required to read or recall information that is presented to them, attempting to impart firefighting and other types of procedures we use in the course of our duties to them may become a thing of the past, and safety will suffer.
Incredibly, this dismissal of the importance of reading ability and the ability to recall procedures is no doubt by design. An official with the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters, Donald Day, said in 2009 that, “An individual’s ability to answer a multiple-choice exam does nothing but measure their ability to read and retain”. Such reckless ignorance strains credulity, but does go a long way towards helping to understand how we all got enmeshed in this ridiculous lawsuit in the first place.
Please contact me for further comment.
President - Merit Matters
Note: Mr. Mannix is an active FDNY Deputy Chief but does not represent the FDNY in an official capacity in this Release.