Posted on May 8, 2019

Race-Norming in a Maryland Public School District

Mike Gonzales, National Review, May 8, 2019

Is a public school system in a leafy county straddling the Capital Beltway discriminating against Asian Americans? The feds next door are investigating in a case with national implications, and with good reason: The type of racial balancing that Montgomery County Public Schools is using may well be illegal.


{snip} Though the district insists its new approach to admissions is color-blind, there is considerable evidence that the effort was in reality an attempt at “race norming,” which is unfair and illegal.

The changes in the admissions process stem from the recommendations included in a 2016 report commissioned by the school system from the New York–based consulting agency Metis Associates. {snip}

Superintendent Larry Bowers was quoted as saying, the county had “created structural and systemic barriers that have prevented some of our students from full participation in an instructional program that meets their needs and pushes them to excel.”

In short, Hispanic, black, and low-income students were less likely to be selected.


MCPS responded with two major shifts. First, it invited to the qualifying cognitive-skills assessment all fifth-graders performing above grade level, rather than relying on parental requests and teacher recommendations. The number of test-takers tripled, making the selection process more democratic.

It was the second change that smacked of “group-specific norms”: Students could be disqualified if their home schools already included “a peer group” of 20 similarly gifted classmates. {snip}

Worse, in light of the OCR investigation, this “peer group” approach looks like a fig leaf for something else. The peers at the children’s home schools are likely to come from the same race. What is happening looks a lot like race-norming.


Though it was used for decades in hiring, Congress outlawed the practice in 1991. Like the doctrine of disparate impact, race norming has been a darling of the Left. It also has its fans among conservatives, however. Their point is that, if progressives are intent on group proportionalism in all institutions, then it is far better to hire the best from each group, rather than just lowering standards across the board.