should I blow the whistle on the harm my organization is causing?

A reader writes:

I have a kind of murky moral problem I’m hoping you can help me with.

I work for a nonprofit that, among other things, develops and administers a test that’s required as part of practicing a certain profession. I’ve worked for this organization for about five years now, and really like my small team and the overall ~staff~ culture. Unfortunately, we’re run by a board of volunteers whose more conservative values often are out of alignment with those of the employees.

Due to the nature of my role, I have access to a certain amount of information about the test we develop. About a year or so into my employment, I was made aware that we have a similar score problem with our test to that seen in the SATs — that is, white men tend to perform way better than individuals of other backgrounds. Depending on the demographics being compared, we’re talking 30-40% better on average (measured consistently each year, over the past decade). Obviously, this is a problem. When I was first made aware, I was assured we were addressing the problem and would be offering a solution in the near future. Over the past several years, as I’ve gained access to more senior information and become more familiar with how the organization operates, it’s become clear that any solution is at least a decade away from implementation.

The details of the score disparities are a well-guarded and publicly denied secret. I’m one of maybe 10 or so people with access to this information. Each passing month weighs heavier and heavier on me, especially as leadership (who are aware of the problem) keep giving lip service to diversity efforts, while internally blaming the problem on things like poor education at historically black colleges and universities (even though we have the data to disprove this ridiculous theory).

I suspect the only way we’ll ever address the actual problem is if this information becomes public knowledge, and I’m increasingly tempted to make that happen. However, blowing the whistle would make a lot of jobs much more difficult (including my own) and potentially lead to lawsuits, deregulation attempts, restructures, and job loss. Plus, it’d be a pretty easy guess who the leak was, and I do need my health insurance badly.

So … what are the ethics around whistleblowing here? Am I obligated to make this information public? I worry about the repercussions for my own job, but I’m aware that this racial bias is impacting the career progress of many other individuals in a potentially more profound way. On the other hand, I’m in a decent position to keep pushing this problem to be addressed internally, but suspect even my best efforts wouldn’t see any sort of real change for at least five years. It’s starting to seem like my best choice is to look for a new job that doesn’t leave me feeling like part of the problem, but even then I think this knowledge would weigh on me. My direct boss and grandboss are aware of the issue and sympathetic to my dilemma, but also have more of a “work with the system” attitude about it. Any advice you have for handling this sort of situation would be much appreciated.

So, you’ve got a test that’s required in order to work in a particular profession, and it’s so racially biased that white men outperform everyone else by 30-40%. Your organization is content to wait at least a decade (on top of however long they’ve already waited) — at least 10 more years that people who aren’t white men will continue to be at a significant disadvantage if they want to practice in this field.

I think you’ve got to blow the whistle.

I can’t tell from your letter whether the bias in the test means that women and people of color are outright failing it and being kept out of the profession altogether or whether they’re getting lower but still passing scores. If they’re being kept out of the profession or if the lower scores affect the kinds of jobs or salaries they have access to, that adds additional urgency.

If the info becoming public makes some jobs in your organization more difficult … that’s okay. It sounds like that would be called for! If it leads to lawsuits, it sounds like that would be called for too. People deserve to be able to have legal redress. And I never want to speak lightly about the possibility of people losing their jobs, but ethically the solution can’t be that an organization doing this kind of harm is protected at the expense of the people it’s injuring.

I also don’t take lightly the potential impact to you. You didn’t say you’re worried that being suspected or known to be the leaker might affect your ability to get work in the future, but if that is a worry, you’d want to figure out how to best protect yourself and talking with a lawyer wouldn’t be a bad idea. But you’re right when you say that staying silent would affect many more people’s careers in a more serious way.

None of this means you need to blow everything up tomorrow, but I do think the ethical solution is to start actively job searching and work on getting the info out to the people who deserve to know it sooner rather than later.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 438 comments… read them below }

  1. TimeTravlR*

    Not an expert whistleblower but maybe contact a journalist who might be interested in this type of thing. They may be able to approach it as a “looking into” kind of thing and uncover it “themselves” if they just know to start looking?? Any journalists that could weigh in on whether that is even a reasonable way to handle it and still somewhat protect OP?
    (Also, OP, I think you stepping out for the people who are being shorted is incredibly admirable. I understand wanting/needing to protect your position/health insurance though!)

    1. Willow*

      Journalist here. Yes, going this route is definitely a good option. You’d want to do your research first, though, on who to reach out to (Have they reported on something like this before? What are their publication’s rules on anonymous sources?). And also establish ground rules before sharing any actual information so that you’re as protected as possible. A good journalist will do their best to protect their source–but also recognize that this doesn’t protect you entirely, especially as there’s only a handful of people with this information.

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      Law enforcement does this all the time – it’s called “parallel construction.” Basically, they have information gained through unsavory/illegal means that either wouldn’t hold up in court, or that they don’t want to reveal. A three-letter agency might advise the local police to pull over a certain car and find a pretext to search it. Then, the official way the case started was that the car was pulled over for some trivial traffic violation, not that the government did something shady or illegal to discover that the defendant was engaged in criminal activity.

      1. Well...*

        Not a lawyer, but isn’t that at odds with the whole fruit from the poisoned tree thing? Any evidence you found based on a lead you got from, say, and illegal search is inadmissible? Maybe there’s a gray area.

        1. ecnaseener*

          The idea is you don’t reveal the illegal search ever happened. You pretend it was blind luck.

        2. sacados*

          In this case the idea is that you avoid that by creating a path to let you come to the same information via totally different (not poisoned) channels.
          For example, an informant or suspect tells you a piece of information that for whatever reason you’re not allowed to use in court. So you go back through your other evidence and realize that Witness A must also be aware of this information — so you go back to question them again, and (legally) get them to give you the same piece of information. Boom, you’re all set.

          1. hawk*

            Yeah, the important thing is not that the original source is illegal, it’s that you don’t want to reveal it. (The OP isn’t doing anything illegal and focusing on that is weird.)
            So a better example is the FBI have a mole in top ranks of the Mafia, but they don’t want to risk exposing them when they fight the battle in court, so they parallel-construct the leads they get from the mole.

        3. Sal*

          Very sad to report that there is an exception to the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine and it is called “inevitable discovery.” The “inevitable” part is supposed to have real teeth (law enforcement theoretically needs to really prove that they absolutely and definitely would have come across the evidence in this untainted way in the ordinary and normal course of investigation) but in practice…

    3. AndersonDarling*

      I absolutely agree. If the OP contacts a journalist, the journalist will ask the organization for the information. Reputable journalists know how to do this to make it look like they are simply doing the fact finding for an upcoming story.
      I worked for an edgy non-profit and reporters would call at least one a year to look into a scoop. Non-profits have PR departments for a reason.
      I’d also like to point out, at least in my mind, the OP isn’t doing anything terribly detrimental to their organization. The org has identified the problem, and has a plan. The org will have the talking points necessary to respond to the press, and the OP spilling the beans will just push a resolution forward.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Depends on how long the org’s been covering it up for — if they can believably claim they just recently found out and immediately started working on it, you might be right. But if it’s been covered up for decades, yikes.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          But if it still makes them say “others are aware of this, we need to speed up our 10-year plan,” that’s an accomplishment.

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            Unless they respond by saying that publicly, but behind the scenes it’s business as usual.

      2. Joan Rivers*

        I’d be tempted to hire a lawyer to discuss protecting myself here, and have the lawyer contact the journalists.

        1. Dominic*

          I dot the understand how a test can be racially biased. Are we saying that people with non while skin are not capable of performing the same problem solving tasks as people with white skin? As a POC I am offended at the suggestion that I might not be capable of passing a test based on my raise. Quite frankly, that’s asinine. What skill does this test check for that I am incapable of exhibiting with proper study and preparation?

          1. Doc in a Box*

            One possibility is that white students more often have the means to pay for test prep courses that will teach you how to answer questions for a higher score. Another possibility is that the people who write the questions have unrecognized biases that influence the way they frame the questions. (The Runner:Marathon::Oarsman:Regatta analogy is probably the most infamous example of this type of bias.) A third possibility is that immigrants or children of immigrants, who are more likely than not to be POC, may not have the cultural knowledge to answer some test questions, especially word problems. (e.g. to make a basketball, do you need to calculate surface area or volume?)

            If race/gender accounts for 30-40% of the variation in test scores, that test is fundamentally flawed. It’s not measuring intelligence or skill at all, except for the skill of imitating a white man.

            1. Person*

              I remember teaching in an area that had almost entirely palm/tropical trees. There was a question on a standardized test for my elementary students about photosynthesis–but the example used pine needles, not leaves. If you live near pine trees, you have tons of chances to encounter one, examine it, and see how the needles are like leaves in other trees. If not, then you have to make that leap intellectually that needles=leaves. I saw lots of my students get this question wrong despite knowing they had a good understanding of photosynthesis. And the kids who got it right were doing a whole extra level of cognition than many of the kids who grew up near pine trees would likely need to do. So, this is an example where a question written to test a thing is actually testing also/instead something else. Like that marathon/regatta example above, knowledge specific to something other than what is supposed to be tested/relevant for the situation can make its way into testing, and people can be blind to it. If a certain race/gender tends to ace your test while others aren’t and your test is meant to be ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’, it’s almost definitely because something is wrong with the test, not the people.

              1. Lexie*

                I worked with teens on independent living skills. There was an assessment they were given asking them how to complete various tasks and what they should do in certain situations. One of the questions was how to wash a wool sweater. The program was located in the southern portion of the US where it was completely possible for a person to never own any wool clothes, especially if they were from a lower income family. Therefore, it wasn’t a question they could easily answer.

              2. Paige*

                That’s a really good example. Finding the kids who can do that next level processing can be one goal of the test. But if the main goal is to demonstrate competence or proficiency, then that’s not a good question.

                Testing and exams can be really useful but the results need to line up with reality in a way that’s fair. Can it identify different kinds of super smart folks? Can a mediocre score correlate with mediocre abilities? Is the question weighting done in a way that doesn’t favor super niche skills?

                The goal is not to have everyone get the same high score. It’s to allow more people the chance to truly show off their capabilities.

            2. Kayla*

              Also, sometimes, career/test prep is done through informal networks, school academic clubs, mentorships, etc. And if some demographics of people are welcomed into that informal tutoring more than others, that can exclude people.

              At any rate, when we have unexpectedly disparate results from large groups of people who presumably have, on average, equal capability, we need to look at all of these possibilities, and see if the cause is something that can be addressed, how, and by whom. If the cause is bad questions that require cultural knowledge, change the questions. If the issue is access to test prep, then try to partner with other organizations to increase access to test prep (this would be a feel-good PR move as well).

          2. Tania G*

            Please do some research on bias that exists within standardized exams. There is a known and documented issue with standardized exams favoring white, CoS-men from middle and upper classes. There are lots of documented research into how this issue came to be (in short, it was designed that way – IQ test and the SATs which are the foundational development for all modern standardized tests were literally written to advance eugenic propaganda that white women, low income white men, and any POC -especially WOC- cannot innately be equally as skilled or intelligent as white, cis-men from middle and upper classes). We know now that all standardized test are prone to bias and that they are poor tools for measuring competence or skill. While licensed professions (real estate, medical, law, etc.) realistically cannot one hundred percent move away from standardized exams, there are many ways orgs can develop their materials to reduce bias and to change the evaluation structure to adjust for known issues of bias.

            Again, there are so many studies and research into this. Don’t feel offended; instead, take some time to do some digging into the topic.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Yes. The first time IQ tests were used, girls got much higher marks than boys. So the tests were changed, adding in more of the type of question that the boys got right, and eliminating most of the questions that the girls got right.

          3. EchoGirl*

            I think you’ve got it backwards. What OP is saying isn’t that POC (or women) are inherently less capable of passing a test; the concern actually rests on the opposite assumption. The very issue is that there’s a significant discrepancy between the performance of white men and the performance of other demographics despite the fact that there’s no inherent reason for that to be the case (i.e. that women and POC are not less intelligent or capable), which indicates that the system in some way favors white men. We can only vaguely speculate on what that is but there has to be something, otherwise there’s no reason for one demographic to be doing so much better.

          4. JSPA*

            There are plenty of cultural references, high school sports, leisure pastimes that will be disproportionately familiar to a certain subset of white males, whether that’s prep schools and lacrosse, or Nascar, or certain sub-specialties of hunting and fishing, or certain flavors of historical re-enactment.

            If you ask someone to apply legal concept A to something Nascar, or you present regulatory issue B in the context of something that’s commonly talked about by people who do confederate re-enactment? Sure, someone of any gender or race could happen to recreate the argument (or even go one better than the standard argument) starting from first principles. But someone who’s culturally aware of the current arguments will generally have a leg up.

            Then there are the analogy type questions that are intrinsically culturally-specific, and not something that being broadly well-read will cover. Strathspey is to Reel as Saunter is to __________, or the famous SAT question, with the correct answer, runner is to marathon as oarsman is to regatta. 53% of whites get it right, but only 22% of African Americans; this question is primarily a test of, “have you encountered the words “oarsman” and “regatta,” which in turn adds up to, “do you, your friends, or your family have connections to a certain subset of prep schools and colleges and universities where it’s not possible for someone to never have heard of regattas.”

            Sure, this doesn’t only discriminate against African Americans, and it doesn’t stump all African Americans. Someone white from the plains states who went to a land grant university in the center of the county may also never have encountered those words. But it’s still a biased, completely useless question, unless the test is intended to decipher, “are you in with the in crowd.”

          5. Betteauroan*

            I’m having a hard time with this as well. Anyone with ambition to get into a field and study for a test should be able to do it. The only thing I can think of that comes to mind for me is the ASVAB. That’s the test you take to narrow down your skill sets to qualify for positions in the military. There is a whole section on auto mechanics. Why does everyone have to take that part when I was testing for computers/communications/security? There are tons of jobs in the military that don’t involve having a mechanical mindset.

    4. prismo*

      I’m a journalist! I don’t do a lot of work involving whistleblowers, but I think this could be a good idea. You’d need to find the right journalist, depending on who the test is for, how many people this affects, if it has more influence in one geographic area than another, etc. (For example, if this was a test for, say, medical school, I imagine national reporters who cover health/medicine or healthcare policy would be interested in this. OTOH, if it was a test for real estate licensing in Idaho, you’d want a local reporter.)

      There are different levels of doing this, too. It could just be an anonymous tip so the reporter knows to look into it themselves, it could be OP providing info “on background” or off the record, etc. “On background” usually means the journalist can’t publicly reference the info or source at all, but could use it in their reporting. Off the record can work at various levels — it could mean they can publish the info and attribute it to an anonymous source, attribute it to a source at X company, etc. OP would need to work with the reporter to find what’s comfortable for both of them and may need to try more than one reporter/news outlet.

      Big tip: OP needs to make an agreement about off the record/on background etc BEFORE sharing any info they don’t want published. If you email a reporter and say “Off the record, my boss at Testing Nonprofit is committing fraud and attached are screenshots to prove it,” you are NOT off the record yet, because the reporter didn’t agree to it, and that info is fair game to share. People really don’t seem to get that one.

      1. OhNo*

        Oh, that is good to know! I assumed they’d have to really stress the importance of the anonymous source rules, especially if it’s as closely guarded a secret as the LW suggests. But it’s good to know there are even safer options if they really can’t be publicly connected with the information leak at all.

        1. prismo*

          Yes! An investigative reporter would likely look into an anonymous tip with some documentation showing it’s not just a ranting rando. Lots of reporters (esp investigative ones) also have secure sites set up, Signal numbers, etc., so people don’t have to send sensitive/anonymous info via email, which I once heard described as “more like sending a postcard than a letter” in terms of security.

          1. Infosec Engineer*

            Email is somewhat better than it used to be. Back in the bad old days, anyone at your ISP could easily tap your email — everything was sent unencrypted, both from the end client to their ISP’s mail server, and then from that mail server to the receiving ones. Nowadays those connections are much more likely to be encrypted — but they’re just encrypted in transit between the mail servers, not while content is stored _on_ the mail servers (so someone with administrative access to the mail server you or the recipient is using still can read your email, just not folks who tapped the routers between the two) — which is why using Signal is still much better.

            (One of the things that came out of the Snowden leaks is that Google started encrypting transmissions between their data centers — it used to be that everything was encrypted going in and out of Google-as-a-whole, but the connections used to transfer internally within Google’s many data centers were private leased lines; theoretically, nobody but Google could see their contents, so there wasn’t any reason to encrypt them… except that the NSA had their own equipment between the ends of those lines. That was perhaps one of the most explosive items there).

    5. Sales Geek*

      I have contributed — anonymously — to research on my former employer’s age discrimination through the Pro Publica ( organization. They have a way to drop this kind of information ( anonymously to their investigative team.

      This used to be something that was only done on some of the more aggressive left-wing sites (e.g. Mother Jones) but most of the bigger news sites now have a “contact us securely” tool. That said I’d recommend any communications be done when you’re on a network other than your home wifi. And you may try using the “Brave” browser’s ( TOR feature ( for an additional layer of anonymization.

      This is just the “how” and not the “why” or “who” part of dropping this kind of information. I’ll leave the vetting of the various news organizations to folks with more knowledge/experience than I do.

      1. Pocket Mouse*

        Seconding ProPublica if the impact is statewide or larger. Their reporting often leads to change.

        Document what you need to document early, often, and securely. Good luck, OP, and thank you.

      2. JustaClarifier*

        Brave browser is great (responding with it!), but I do want to add a note for LW or anyone interested about the TOR feature – depending on your country, you may be tracked simply for using TOR, even if you’re not doing anything nefarious. For example, as of the last I was aware, the US government tracks everyone using TOR. So just be aware of that before you use it depending on your situation. It might be better to utilize a VPN – some good ones aren’t necessarily expensive (I pay like $2.50 a month for mine; I don’t want to name it in case that’s an issue or someone receives the impression that I’m promoting them somehow) and there are simple UIs that allow you to create multiple gateways for full anonymity.

        1. Blarg*

          If you use a VPN, though, be aware that they straight up don’t work on Google the vast majority of the time. I don’t know how or why, but somehow Google is able to see straight through most VPNs and detect your actual location.

          1. OhNo*

            This is all really interesting! I never knew that about Google. AAM: come to the comments to complain about bad companies, leave with helpful info security knowledge!

            I don’t suppose there’s a “whistleblowers guide to maintaining anonymity” anywhere online, is there? Seems like the sort of resource that might really help the LW here evaluate some options.

            1. pancakes*

              The question in this scenario isn’t really whether Google might be able to pinpoint a prospective whistle-blower’s IP address, but whether the whistle-blower’s internet service provider (ISP) might be required to provide it to their employer or to law enforcement. Google is not the letter writer’s ISP. If you are wondering whether there are circumstances in which Google or other search engines would be required to turn over a whistle-blower’s search history to their employer or to law enforcement, that’s a rather different question, and not specific to Google.

              There is something called The National Whistleblowers Center at whistleblowers dot org, which has a page on confidentiality with links to other resources, and there are several broader guides to maintaining anonymity online.

            2. Infosec Engineer*

              I’m not providing links to avoid holding this up in moderation, but everything below is very googlable.

              The Freedom of the Press Foundation has a training section of their website that’s solid and accessible. Likewise, the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s “Surveillance Self-Defense” site.

              The book “The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy” is a little old but very well recommended (the author is a journalist I’d followed for a lot of years before it came out, and knows her stuff).

          2. DaraX*

            Interestingly, going backwards and using plain dialup on a computer can muck with Google’s location detection. AOL (and other, I’m sure) dialup still exists, and external dialup modems that plug into USB are pretty inexpensive. I was stuck using dialup until the pandemic hit (cohabitating with parents who did not want to let someone in to set it up, and then pandemic meant that the company finally admitted that setup isn’t exactly rocket science and customers could so it themselves), and the location thing was just a general source of amusement when I’d get an email alert from google that my account had been accessed from the next state over, but no, it was just me.

            1. Infosec Engineer*

              To a point. A dial-up ISP is going to keep records of which customer was using which IP at what time indefinitely as much as any other will, and will respond to any subpoena — and maybe a lot of friendly requests even without a subpoena involved. Booting a copy of Whonix over USB (so your computer doesn’t have your usual cookies and MAC address — when run as an OS, Whonix randomizes the MAC to make the logs of the wifi you’re using harder to track back to you) and finding a coffee shop (that isn’t the closest one to your home) is where I might go if the situation called for extra caution.

          3. Brooklyn*

            Former Google engineer here. VPNs work great at what they’re designed to do – hide your traffic’s origins. It’s the equivalent of using a mailbox in Boise, Idaho instead of your leaving your letter in your mailbox. However, if your letter starts with “hello from Kansas City”, it’s not hard to figure out where you live. Similarly, when you sign in to Google, you tell them who you are, and that makes it really easy to figure out where you are (are you currently signed in to Google services on your cell phone? Now they have a GPS signal).

            Even worse, with the proliferation of all sorts of tracking cookies, if you let CoffeeFinder2000 access your lication to find nearby coffee shops, they can store that location and your browser will happily forward that on to Google or anyone else who asks.

            Worse, worse yet, there is a concept of fingerprinting – your computer, the operating system version, the browser you’re using, and basic info about your hardware (things a reasonable site might want to know like your screen size) can be used pretty reliably to identify a single user. If I know that Samantha from Buffalo uses a MacBook Air from 2016 with the Chrome browser she hasn’t updated in exactly 3 months and has location services turned off, then the next time I see that exact configuration, I know pretty certainly that it’s Samantha, even if her traffic comes from a different place or she’s in incognito mode. This is the reason that you might start seeing ads clearly intended for people you live with, because the IP address is part of this fingerprinting process as well.

            Basically, internet security is complicated. Companies make billions through better tracking of you online, and please don’t believe the Apple ads that they’re protecting your privacy. If you need to do something like whistleblowing, and you aren’t an expert, find someone who is. If you’re contacting a lawyer, they will often have contacts to help set up anonymous communications.

            If you want a quick start, a VPN service and incognito mode in a browser you otherwise don’t use is a good start. Alternatively, things like encrypted email are also very reliable.

    6. ItsNotParanoiaIfTheyReallyAreOutToGetYou*

      If you are going to contact a journalist, definitely look into using Signal or another encrypted and disappearing message app to protect yourself from discovery later on. Whistleblowing is not always as protected in practice as it should be according to the law, so if you’re worried about blowback and keeping yourself safe take steps to protect yourself early on.
      (In the same vein, I would recommend scrubbing all your contact about this post, your search history and browsing history, etc. All of that can be investigated and subpoena’d as part of any investigation later on.)

  2. MommaCat*

    If you decide you can’t afford to blow the whistle… start doing that pushing you spoke of. 5 years is better than a decade.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Also, keep looking for new job and when you get one then do the whistle blowing

    2. MelaileMama*

      5 years is on top of the however many decades the organization (and test) have been in operation.

      OP needs to job search fervently, and whistleblow ASAP. If OP takes the stance that they can’t afford to whistleblow, how many people’s livelihoods are they potentially impacting? How many non white men will lose out on jobs and opportunities because of this? If you were one of the people impacted, would you still give the same advice?

      Of course we need to put on our own mask before giving someone else theirs. But if we know the plane isn’t going down for a while, we may take our sweet time reaching for the mask. Working within the system rarely works. None of the rights that we have today came from people working within the system (that’s just what history books like to credit it to, while discrediting the rebels that caused people with power to act).

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I pushed. This is a know your environment thing. And mine was more obvious, a passerby could observe the problem. But I am a fan of, “Com’on folks, we CAN do better than this. Let’s fix this now.”

      Thinking about this strategically, you could say something along lines of, “How much longer do you think we can stay under the radar here? Do you see the news and all that is going on? It’s not reasonable to believe that we will last the next 10 years undetected.” Use a tone of, “I am worried about us.”

    4. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

      Sadly, pushing on one end doesn’t mean movement on the other.

  3. Jcarnall*

    Oh my goodness.

    I feel for you.

    Talk to a good employment lawyer – and I think find yourself some external support for yourself as the whistleblower. You can hope it never comes out who leaked, but I think you absolutely must make plans as of it will. If you can take an external group into your confidence beforehand they may be able to help with who’s best to leak it to in the media.

    Courage. You are doing the right thing. But get everything in order for your own support before you leak.

    1. Macaroni Penguin*

      Oh goodness this is a pickle. Talking to a lawyer is critical to determine the best path forward. The OP needs to protect others while protecting themselves. This situation somewhat reminds me of The DS9 episode Far Beyond the Stars. I. Which, 1950s sci-fi writer Benny struggles to get his stories of a black space station captain published. But Benny’s Bosses won’t do it. They merely pay lip service to internally reforming the system. Benny’s stories are pulped because of overt racism in leadership.
      I wish OPs leadership had seriously started improving the system a decade ago.

      1. Lady Lyndon*

        I would not talk to a lawyer. Involving a lawyer will just create a paper trail and the attorney will have to advise not to breach any employment contract by divulging info. If you really cannot make peace with it, anonymously contact propublica. They are very considerate of their sources.

        1. pancakes*

          A paper trail of what, exactly? If the lawyer drafts a memo, that’s protected by attorney / client privilege.

          If the letter writer is subject to an employment contract — which is not common in the US — it may be especially helpful to talk to a lawyer about relevant portions of it, if there are any. An employer putting something in a contract doesn’t mean that every aspect of the contract is enforceable in the way the employer wants it to be.

        2. nona*

          No – a good attorney will tell OP the consequences (to the OP) of breaking an employment contract (if one exists). Not just advise them not to do it. Like, what point divulging the info becomes a crime (criminal matter) and not just a civil matter.

          The attorney OP talks to is there to assess the impact to OP, not to the company, and advise accordingly. This is totally what lawyers are for – to advise non-experts on the law and legal implications before the non-expert takes action, to either avoid breaking the law, or breaking a law that perpetuating a immorality (civil disobedience). And whether there are any whistleblowing statutes that apply or not.

          There’s a ton of stuff a good employment attorney could tell OP.

        3. Public Sector Manager*

          This is terrible advice not to talk to an employment lawyer. Whistleblower laws are not these wide-sweeping protections for complaining about everything your employer does. The OP may find that reporting this isn’t covered by whistleblower protections where they live. The OP is one of 10 people with the information. Even if a reporter doesn’t divulge the source, the employer has a short list of suspects for the leak.

          If the OP isn’t covered by the whistleblower laws, the OP probably will be terminated or someone else with access to the information may be terminated instead of the OP. There are potential future employment problems for the OP and anyone else.

          This is exactly the time you want to find an employment lawyer.

          1. Lady Lyndon*

            If you are anonymously tipping off an organization, what do you need the lawyer to do except for open up a file and tell you what protections you have **if they find out**

            Seems easier to just report anonymously and move out of the org.

            1. Joielle*

              I mean, yeah. You need a lawyer to tell you what protections you have if they find out. That will help the OP decide how/when/if to blow the whistle. Certain avenues are more/less risky and more/less effective. An anonymous report is not always guaranteed to remain anonymous. So you’ll want to know what would happen in a worst case scenario, and what your options would be, so you can make an informed decision about what to do.

            2. LizM*

              A lawyer can help OP weigh the risks and understand what, if any, precautions they can take to protect themselves. For example, a lot of federal employees assume whistleblower protections apply if they go to the media. But the protections are different if they go to Congress, vs. OIG, vs. just randomly post about something on their social media.

              If OP is one of a handful of people with access to this info AND they’ve expressed their dissatisfaction in the past, their employer may retaliate even without firm proof that it was OP. A lawyer can help them figure out the best way to prepare for this, vs. leaking it and hoping for the best.

            3. Autumnheart*

              Reporting anonymously doesn’t mean much when you’re one of 10 people with access to the information. The company is quickly gonna know who spilled the beans. It sure would be better to have whistleblower protection than to not have it (if said protection applies).

            4. Selena*

              I assume people like Chelsea Manning and Reality Winner planned to stay anonymous: the smart move is to try to stay anonymous by hiding behind a VPN and/or a reporter, but to also be prepared in case you do get caught.

              1. Adam Carter*

                “Reality Winner” disclosed classified information. She is absolutely guilty and should not be transformed into some kind of folk heroine.

                1. BubbleTea*

                  I don’t know who or what Reality Winner is, but by definition something that is classified is information that the owners don’t want exposed. If that is your standard for whether or not it SHOULD be exposed, then there would never be any whistleblowers at all.

            5. Jcarnall*

              OP needs to talk to a good employment lawyer, and quite possibly also to a specialized whistleblower lawyer, to find out just what the company can legally do to her for blowing the whistle, and what she can do if they overstep. She will also be able to say, if they interview her about this, that she wants to have her lawyer present for the meeting, or to have her lawyer review anything they want her to sign.

              Tl:dr – OP needs to talk to a lawyer as a first step.

        4. Jaydee*

          Clearly you are not a lawyer.

          First, information shared between a client and a lawyer is privileged. The lawyer cannot share that information with law enforcement, news media, even the client’s spouse or other family, etc. without permission from the client. Talking to a lawyer doesn’t “create a paper trail” unless you want it to.

          Second, a lawyer can advise someone about breaking a contract. Contracts get broken all the time. Lawyers can advise about the legal and practical consequences of various options. Sometimes breaking a contract is the best option. So how do you go about doing it in the way that will minimizes negative consequences and maximize benefits? Likewise, lawyers read the law and analyze it. So if there are whistleblower protections, there are probably rules about when those protections apply. When would you get in trouble for disclosing proprietary information or trade secrets, versus when would you be protected as a whistleblower? A lawyer can figure that out and advise you about whether those protections apply based on your position, the type of information you’re disclosing, and the person or entity to whom you’re disclosing it.

          1. pancakes*

            +1 to all this.

            In a reply comment Lady Lyndon is basically saying that it seems easier to just move on, and report without knowing what the consequences may be. Easier and wiser aren’t always the same!

            1. Lady Lyndon*

              Regardless of whether I am a lawyer or not, I can tell you that disclosure of certain kinds of information can lead to criminal penalties. If a client seeks advice from an attorney to assist with the furtherance of a crime or fraud or the post-commission concealment of the crime or fraud, then the communication is not privileged.

              It’s unwise to breach contracts, but as Jaydee states, this is merely civil and can be discussed. But if criminal penalties attach, then you need to be very circumspect about what information you share and what written record you’re leaving behind.

              Also, not everything you give a lawyer is privileged, only communications exchanged in the rendering of legal services.

              1. katherine*

                The OP is not trying to commit or conceal a crime or fraud, though, so I’m not sure how that’s relevant.

              2. srsly*

                It is clearly not the case here that OP is seeking to commit a crime of the type you describe, so this information doesn’t serve them, and instead might confuse them (like the contract breach idea you’ve introduced out of the blue).

                Also, you’re making the case here for talking to a lawyer when earlier you argued the opposite.

                1. pancakes*

                  Yes, exactly. And a conversation with a lawyer for the purpose of seeking legal advice is indeed protected by privilege.

              3. Not YOUR Lawyer*

                This is very much oversimplifying things and doesn’t accurately reflect actual case law or practice. How the legal practice defines these things doesn’t necessarily match up with how society would, and there are legal exceptions in many locations in the U.S. that expressly permit behavior you are stating isn’t protected.

                For example, in my state, it is perfectly legal for me to provide advice to a client regarding the consequences of taking a breathalyzer test versus refusing to take one and how those consequences are likely to apply to their specific circumstances. This is true even though refusal is a crime – I’m ethically obligated to make it clear it’s a crime, but I can still provide context for the possibility that a new crime may have less significant consequences than a different crime. This information is not discoverable.

                Information obtained during an intake is protected, and (at least in my state), creates a limited attorney-client relationship for the purposes of conflicts (with limited exceptions relating to purposeful abuse of the intake proces).

                Any decent attorney will caution you if you’re about to move into non-protected areas; and it’s unlikely you will.

                The OP should talk to an employment lawyer. Check your state bar website – there may be a way to filter specifically for lawyers who practice in that area. Don’t be afraid to speak to more than one attorney until you find someone you’re comfortable with – you want to make sure that you feel supported by them in a situation like this.

              4. Dream Jobbed*

                Ummm, a heck of a lot is privileged, and hiring a lawyer to advise on how to proceed with a situation certainly falls under that.

                Obviously, LW is trying to stay out of jail, but I’m not sure that’s even a real consideration in this case. And my guess is that if a good lawyer said it’s too dangerous to your freedom, they would just drop it. But to not get advice and just do it, as you advise, is dangerous and could have severe consequences.

              5. NotAnotherManager!*

                That’s not how privilege works. Seeking legal advice is not the same as your attorney being a co-conspirator or furthering a criminal enterprise. If your interpretation was accurate, many people would not be able to get legal advice at all without it being disclosable. Also, if you give your attorney documentation for rendering their legal advice, that is also privileged. Nearly everything that a client provides to their attorney is for the purpose of rendering legal services, and attorneys often ASK for documentation to review to fully understand the situation and advise appropriately. Many attorneys bill by the hour, and the communications tend to be exclusively about legal advice absent the introductory pleasantries.

                Where privilege tends to become fuzzy is when someone plays both a legal and business role and the substance of the communications has to be analyzed to see if it was a business conversation or legal advice – that does not usually apply to individuals seeking legal advice.

                (I am not a lawyer, but I did work in the legal industry for 20 years and have done my fair share of privilege reviews/logs.)

              6. NotAnotherManager!*

                Also, people breach contracts all the time when the consequence for the breach is less than the cost of staying in the contract. Leases can typically be broken by paying a penalty fee or a certain number of months’ rent. Non-compete clauses are often not pursued because the employer doesn’t want their agreement declared invalid. This is what a lawyer advises you on – whether the consequence of contract-breaking are more tenable than the cost of abiding by it.

        5. DocVonMittens*

          This isn’t really accurate as others have commented. I just blew the whistle at my job and did so with the help of an attorney who specializes in employee whistle blowers.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            If you’re comfortable sharing, what type of help did the attorney give you? Do you have any suggestions for the LW, based on your experience?

            1. pancakes*

              It’s very difficult to generalize about this stuff in a way that’s valuable, because the facts of the matter are hugely important in determining the best way to handle it. Whistleblowing scenario A and whistleblowing scenario B might not have anything in common besides falling under the general category of whistleblowing. The location, the industry, the way the information was discovered, the harm alleged to be done by releasing it, etc., aren’t necessarily comparable.

    2. RC Rascal*

      I would consult with an employment attorney, to understand your rights and any protections available to whistle blowers. If you do blow the whistle, you could very likely suddenly be confronted with “performance problems” at work. Suddenly your co-workers will find you difficult to work with, you will be missing KPIs you didn’t know existed, and your contributions at meetings will be wrong. If you know the intricacies of your job well, you will be characterized as “overly detailed oriented and fail to grasp strategy”. If you are the strategic type, you will suddenly “lack detail orientation” and your work will be full of errors. Your employer will “investigate your complaint” for about 15 minutes and find it unfounded. You will be accused of causing trouble. You will have communication issues, interpersonal issues, and self awareness issues–they will throw any kind of subjective blanket issue they can at you.

      I say this as someone who once made an ethics complaint regarding a serious issue, according to my company’s policy and was nearly fired for it. There is very little legal protection for whistleblowers except if a certain few situations. Your best bet may be to find another job then blow the whistle.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, I’ve heard enough stories of “I ruined my life by whistleblowing” that I do think at the very least you need to GET OUT OF THE JOB so they can’t harm you directly there.

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          The main issue with leaving first is the company can claim “disgruntled employee.”

    3. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I agree that OP should talk to a lawyer, but I think they should talk to a whistleblower lawyer, not just an employment lawyer. The law on whistleblowing claims is specialized enough that you want someone who is really familiar with it.

      1. Jcarnall*

        Agreed. But an employment lawyer would be the best route to a whistleblower lawyer.

        1. RC Rascal*

          Yes. Whistleblowing is a specialized and complicated area, but most people’s actions aren’t actually protected by law. This is more likely an employment law issue, so start there.

          1. L.H. Puttgrass*

            Fair enough, but the whistleblower lawyer may be in the best position to advise on whether blowing the whistle would be protected or not.

  4. luvtheshoes*

    Please be sure to follow Alison’s advice and look into whistleblower attorneys in your area. They can help with blowback in the form of any retaliation by the organization for whistleblowing activity. Depending upon any federal government money, fed grant money, your org receives, this may also qualify under False Claims Act if the activity violates federal laws. Best of luck to you!

  5. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    You need a lawyer with experience in this area before you do anything.

  6. Somewhat generic username*

    I don’t want to derail, but could anyone explain what the score problem “seen in the SATS” for the non-Americans on here?

    1. Allypopx*

      It’s in the letter, “white men tend to perform way better than individuals of other backgrounds”. SATs are a test given to high school students that often weighs heavily in college acceptance

      1. Cat Boss*

        The standardized test scores also weigh heavily in merit scholarship and other financial assistance awards that can affect the ability of people to attend college or to acquire less debt doing so. Relying so heavily on these scores are disadvantaging those who need the assistance the most.

    2. Temperance*

      People of color tend to score lower on standardized tests because they lack the cultural context used in the materials, basically. The US isn’t a monoculture, but standardized tests are often written and developed with middle class white boys and men in mind.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        There’s an very insightful episode of the podcast “You’re Wrong About” that briefly covers how Black students are impacted by tests with only “proper English” language. The episode is called “The Ebonics Controversy.”

        I hadn’t been aware of this before listening to that episode. They have a guest they interviewed who spoke about it wonderfully. I’d highly recommend giving it a listen (I heard it on Spotify).

        1. Funny Cide*

          Massive YWA fan here. This episode was so insightful and I highly recommend as well.

      2. sunny-dee*

        This is not true. The highest scorers on the SAT are those of Southeast Asian descent, not white.

        1. Anonapots*

          That just implies people of Southeast Asian descent have learned how to game the test, not that it was written with middle to upper class white men in mind. There’s research that demonstrates the issues with the SAT.

        2. JG Obscura*

          That doesn’t mean the test isn’t skewed in a way that gives white males an advantage. Maybe they are not the “top” scorers, but they’re doing better than most other people.

          1. Sparkles McFadden*

            For example: My recollection, from many years ago, was that the language portion, had an entire section on analogies. There were analogies that might be meaningless to people from different backgrounds/socio-economic levels.

            1. Starbuck*

              Right. Classic stuff like “teacup is to saucer as X is to __?” Not knowing what a teacup and saucer are doesn’t mean you’re unintelligent or can’t creatively solve problems, it just means you don’t drink tea on fine china (AKA, aren’t from a wealthy family).

        3. pants*

          Did you mean South or East Asian descent? Or did you mean Philippines/Laos/Vietnam, etc.? Just curious because I have a SE Asian husband who couldn’t even find somewhere to take the SATs back in the day; it’d be an interesting shift.

          1. Yomikk*

            Fairly sure they must have meant South Asian (ie India) and East Asian (ie Japan and Korea).

            The type of people who know and understand what the different designations for Asia mean are usually the type of people who also wouldn’t think that this comment is a good rebuttal to the original statement in my experience.

          2. Self Employed*

            As someone who went to grade school with Vietnamese refugees and was TA for their kids in pre-med and engineering 20 years later, I think the comment about Asians doing well on SATs meant Americans of Asian descent. Typically their parents are very invested in their getting a good career, so they push them to excel in school and take all the prep courses you need to know WTF a regatta is.

        4. Mental Lentil*

          You are deflecting and you need to stop.

          Just like with “not all men” this isn’t about the experience of the top performers, it’s about the people who are being disadvantaged by this system.


        5. Brooklyn*

          This is actually not true once you normalize for factors we know impact education (income, zip code, parents education).

          Also it doesn’t matter.

      3. Anon for this*

        Here is an example I encountered in law school where my limited cultural knowledge (as a white person) caused me to mess up a test question. There was a hypothetical about female Muslim students wanting time in the gym to themselves so that they could remove their hair coverings to workout. I analyzed this under gender discrimination as the boys would be excluded from the room and then, very ignorantly, I analyzed it under race instead of religion. So yeah, I should have known that being Muslim is a religion but in my stressed out head I was thinking of it as a culture and therefore a race. So, that’s the kind of underlying institutional knowledge people are required to have to answer test questions.

        The type of hobbies and stuff used as examples in SAT questions and the like skew super white.

        1. Anon for this*

          To be clear, my example did NOT skew white but it showed how I, as a white person, messed it up by not automatically knowing Muslim was a religion. FYI this was a LONG time ago.

        2. pancakes*

          I think I see what you’re trying to get at, but this isn’t a great example of limited cultural knowledge. Case law on religious and racial discrimination is among the many things law students learn in Con Law I and II. Even if you came into law school not knowing that religion and race sometimes overlap and sometimes do not, you would learn that while learning the case law, if you are reading the cases with any care. This is a problem of not being sufficiently prepared for issue-spotting, not a problem of being a white person.

          1. anon for this*

            It’s funny to me that in America regattas are associated with rich people and with being something mostly rich people know about. Where I used to live, the annual Regatta was a huge deal for everyone–it was actually a holiday, with stores shutting down and a reduced bus schedule. Hardly anyone cared about the actual boat races, but everyone went to the Regatta for the lakeside attractions–bounce castles, hundreds of booths with carnival games and overpriced snack foods, food trucks, beer tents, a bandstand with concerts going on, etc. Even Regatta Eve was a big deal–thousands of people would turn out for it, and 50,000 or more would show up at the lake for Regatta Day.

            1. An American(ish) Werewolf in London*

              Hey. I’m guessing that like me, anon for this, you’re in the UK (apologies if I’m wrong). I’ve been to the type of village regattas you describe. Although the riverside attractions are as you describe them, participation in the regatta itself usually consisted of local rowing clubs. Not necessarily rich, but certainly not poor and they were still clubs.

              In my experience, even the riverside stuff, while available to the village/area, still skewed extremely white and English (I am in in England) and are definitely considered quintessentially English. This doesn’t make them BAD, necessarily, but people living in more racially and economically diverse inner city (or even some suburban) areas are not going to be fully versed in the regatta tradition.

              That isn’t to say they shouldn’t happen, but knowledge of them definitely shouldn’t be on a citizenship or professional test that actually counts for something (unless you’re getting a degree in regattas).

              1. pancakes*

                There’s also quite a difference between the size of the UK and the size of the US, and presumably the number of people in each living within a few hours’ travel to a large body of water.

                1. BubbleTea*

                  No one in the UK is more than I believe 70 miles from the sea. You still get kids in inner cities who have never seen a duck, but the likelihood of knowing what a sandcastle is, for instance, is probably higher than for kids in the middle of the USA hundreds or maybe thousands of miles from the ocean.

                2. Hey*

                  Living in the middle of the country does not mean we don’t know about beaches or sand castles. We have lots of lakes and rivers with beaches. It’s often depicted in coloring books too.

            2. Kayla*

              Is your country mostly very close to the coast? Most of the geographic area of the US is far from any kind of coast or harbor. Heck, I’m in a coastal state, but the ocean is still 4 hours drive from my city. There’s a river around here that people go canoeing and rafting on, and some wealthier people will have a boat in storage on the coast that they drive out to use on the weekend, but that’s about it for boats I think. I know a regatta is some kind of boat event, but I don’t know what exactly it entails (and I’m a middle class white woman that grew up around canoes and kayaks).

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            I heard an episode of This American Life (I think that was it) that talked about this for IQ tests, and it’s basically the same thing. One example was that the test would ask what Romeo and Juliet is. The correct answer was “a play,” but you would also get credit for “an opera” because there was an opera with the same title. But there was (if I remember right) a R&B song called Romeo and Juliet, and you would not get credit for answering “a song.” None of these answers mean you are smart or stupid, they only measure what you have been exposed to.

            1. Mialana*

              How is knowing what Romeo & Juliet is related to IQ? That’s testing knowledge not intelligence.

              1. kitryan*

                There’s a number of knowledge questions on IQ tests. We took part of one in my high school AP psychology class and one of the questions was ‘where does turpentine come from?’. I was the only one who knew that, (pine trees) as I read a lot, and at some point had read some fictional work about a painter or something.
                I have no idea why this is knowledge that anyone would think the average person could be reasonably expected to know.

              2. Hamish the Accountant*

                There are a lot of IQ tests, especially the original ones, which were really based around knowledge questions. Or “common sense” questions that weren’t common sense.

                The one I always remember was the question: if you’re in a store and find a wallet on the floor, what should you do with it? You were supposed to answer something like turn it in to store management or police. But black kids got that answer “wrong” because they would leave it where it was – knowing that if they picked it up they would likely be accused of stealing it.

            2. akg*

              I can’t remember the source (my brain is not working today) but I read an interview with a guy who would put on plays for kids in juvenile detention. When they were performing Romeo and Juliet, he was shocked to hear a bunch of the girls really getting into the romance and looking forward to the happily after ever ending they were expecting. He (and I) had never considered knowing the ending of R&J to be a privilege but not everyone is exposed to Shakespeare.

              1. Don P.*

                That’s actually a weird case, because one might say that being able to enjoy R&J _without_ knowing the ending is the rare privilege! But, yes.

                [Strictly speaking the opening speech of the play summarizes the plot, including the ending, but you have to be in touch with the language to really get that.]

          3. Maeve*

            I am 33 years old and I have no idea what a regatta is! Would definitely not get that question right…

        3. Calliope*

          I still remember getting a PSAT word analogy question that involved football and gridirons and I was like ?????. I’m betting more boys got that right than girls.

          1. pancakes*

            I think that might be more of a regional thing rather than a gender thing. My high school didn’t have a football team because everyone played lacrosse or soccer in the fall, not football.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Both. Football is very big in my part of the country and I’ve heard the word “gridiron” in the context of football but I couldn’t tell you what it means. And I was even in the marching band, so I was on the field, and the word “gridiron” still was never used or defined.

              1. Autumnheart*

                I assume it’s because it looks like a gridiron. That is to say, a grilling surface. The metal rack you cook food on is a gridiron.

                1. Kayla*

                  Wow, I’d never heard a grill called that before. So, uh, what part of the football equipment is supposed to look like a grill?

            2. Calliope*

              It may be both but I’m 100% sure more men are taught details of football then women because the activity is “coded” as male to the point where only boys are allowed to play in most schools. Where I grew up boys were on those teams starting in middle school – and girls never were. That’s definitely going to lead to an inequal knowledge base.

              1. pancakes*

                Well, yes, but. I do know enough about it to know girls don’t often play it, but my impression has been that in places where football is a big deal, all sorts of people watch it, including people who’ve never played themselves.

                1. Calliope*

                  Some people may but I didn’t – I didn’t say 100% of women didn’t know it; I said it was a gender biased question. This is a weird thing to argue about given that you don’t actually know anything about football.

                1. Calliope*

                  You may need to work on recalibrating your tone then. Perhaps also back off on telling people they’re wrong about things you admittedly don’t have experience with.

          2. Chinook*

            This type of thung also can skew resukts as more hrban. In high school I messed up questions involving an escalator, something I only saw once or twice in the city. Moving stairs I knew of, just not what they were called (I thiught they were a type of elevator). Ditto for engineer – those are the guys that drive trains, right?

            That is why exams need to make sure they are testing the right thing. Are they testing your ability to make logical comparisons or the type of vocabulary you have?

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I mean, if you *truly* want to evaluate someone’s logic skills, and not vocabulary, you’ll just give definitions of those words. Then it’s a logic puzzle and not a vocabulary recognition thing.

            2. Elenna*

              Oh, now that you mention it, I recall that the test I took in third grade to see if I should be moved to the gifted program included a section that was straight-up just vocabulary recognition – as in, they would say a word and I had to say what it meant. I probably got quite a good score on it, since I read a lot as a kid, mostly books meant for older kids. But now that I think about it, it doesn’t really make sense as something that should have been on that test…

              1. MCMonkeybean*

                Oh wow that’s wild to me because even having a good vocabulary and being able to define words are I think wildly different skill-sets! I think I have a pretty decent vocabulary and I am usually good at knowing what words mean in context, but I have always been terrible at trying to explain what things mean haha.

      4. Alex*

        Claiming that the tests benefit white people as a class isn’t exactly truthful and has been actively harmful for the prospects of white people from less privileged backgrounds (who are also unlikely to have the cultural knowledge that the test requires). The actual problem is that the tests are written in a way that benefits those from privileged backgrounds regardless of race (although the vast majority of such people have been white historically which makes it look as though it is white people who benefit). By treating the situation as a race and gender issue and giving extra support to ethnic minorities and females the UK is now at the point where working class white boys are faced with substantially lower prospects than any other group meaning the problem has simply moved to a different group rather than been eliminated. I suspect one of the major reasons why so many middle class people are suddenly supporting Black Lives Matter and other similar groups has more to do with the fact that they don’t want the actual issues to be talked (as this would require bigger systematic changes to come about) about rather than any real desire to see things change.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          “working class white boys are faced with substantially lower prospects than any other group”

          I find this hard to believe. I hear similar statements in the US and know those are not true: working class brown boys/men have it even worse.

          1. littledoctor*

            It’s absolutely false, just like it’s false that antiblackness doesn’t harm the lives of wealthy Black people or that people support BLM to avoid talking about the “real issues.”

          2. Lucy*

            It isn’t true in the UK either. Its the kind of thing that white people here say when they want to deny this country’s racism. POC are significantly worse off than “working class white boys.”

        2. Persimmons*

          “I suspect one of the major reasons why so many middle class people are suddenly supporting Black Lives Matter and other similar groups has more to do with the fact that they don’t want the actual issues to be talked (as this would require bigger systematic changes to come about) about rather than any real desire to see things change.”

          Yep, this is the unspoken reality behind much of the recent middle class support for trendy band-aid solutions for deep systemic problems.

          1. sweet brocialist*

            Yeah, instead of solving deep systemic problems, let’s do something easy like end racism!

          1. Texas*

            “Bangladeshi-Brits earn 20 per cent less than whites on average, for instance, but those with Indian heritage are likely to earn 12 per cent more. Black Britons on average earn 9 per cent less, but Chinese earn 30 per cent more. What these differences tell us is that employers aren’t systematically discriminating between people on the basis of their skin colour, and that we have to look elsewhere to see the roots of inequality.”
            This article only appears to only support Alex’s claim because the author has decided that since some groups of PoC make more money on average than other groups of PoC, that’s proof that racism has no impact on average earnings which is… not at all an accurate conclusion to draw from those stats??

          2. Forrest*

            oh FGS NO. I work with these stats. They always rely on pretending that being white and working class is equivalent to being from a minoritised ethnic identities— they ignore the intersections of race, ethnicity and class. They compare “working class white boys” with “Black boys [of any class]” or “all Pakistani and Bangladeshi boys [regardless of class]. They ignore the class backgrounds of young people of colour *and* the class backgrounds of their migrant parents or grandparents (which may well be different because of, duh, racism), as if all Black young people are by definition working class. They claim their point is that class is more salient as race, but they are actually never comparing white working-class men with white middle or upper-class men (because of course we must never suggest that white middle-clasen get too much handed to them on a plate!). It’s literally that they’ve managed to isolate the ONE white group which looks badly off compared to various non-white groups, in order to try and argue against any resources directed to support young people of colour. But they never suggest reducing resources to middle-class white men! Funny that.

            (They also repeatedly claim that no resources or monitoring goes on to look at the experiences of “white working class boys”, when in fact in universities we’ve been looking at POLAR quintile and IMD data for at least a decade, and using data like “first in family” for even linger.)

            There is a whole industry of these people, and they’re far right racist grifters. They stink, and they’re dishonest.

        3. Hi there*

          “I suspect one of the major reasons why so many middle class people are suddenly supporting Black Lives Matter and other similar groups has more to do with the fact that they don’t want the actual issues to be talked (as this would require bigger systematic changes to come about) about rather than any real desire to see things change.”

          Maybe the reason they support BLM is…I don’t know, this is crazy, but hear me out…that they don’t want black people being killed by the police.

          1. Kit*

            I mean, it’s not like the NYT published polling recently that showed white people are **less** supportive of BLM now than they were at the beginning of 2020 – back when Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were still alive and nobody knew who they were but their friends and family. But hey, that ‘sudden’ support was totally not a flash in the pan…

        4. Temperance*

          Uh, okay, no. I absolutely fit that category, actually.

          “Working class white boys” are doing just fine. If they’re anti-education, that’s one thing, but don’t pretend like white men and boys are disadvantaged because others are getting some help to level the playing field.

          As a man, you were born on second base. The tests were made with you in mind.

      5. SD*

        It’s like when I had a question on an elementary school standardized test about the correct direction to plow a field. I’d never seen a plowed field or even a plow, I had no clue. How about asking a child in Oklahoma what is the best way to react is they get caught in a rip current or a child in Florida about snow conditions in relation to a ski experience?

        1. Autumnheart*

          I’ve lived within a few miles of plowed farm fields most of my life, and I don’t know the correct direction to plow a field either.

          Farmer Google says that if you’re plowing a field, you should turn the plow toward the unplowed land, as opposed to toward the plowed land. So you start on the right end of the field and work left.

          1. English, not American*

            I still don’t get it… what difference would it make if you started on the left?

          2. Self Employed*

            I am so old that the Big Fancy Shopping Mall in that county, two miles from my duplex, was the little mall in the middle of the beanfields with a Woolworth’s, a Sears, and a May Company when I was a kid. We could hear meadowlarks singing in the fields when we rode through on the bus. I had no idea there was a right or wrong direction to plow.

      6. mrs__peel*

        I don’t remember if it was on the SATs specifically or another standardized test, but there was a notorious example where students were asked to write an essay about whether they preferred real maple syrup or artificial maple syrup and to describe the differences between them.

        We have a number of Title I schools where I live where 90-100% of the kids are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch because of their families’ low incomes. I *highly* doubt that most of these kids’ parents are regularly dropping $10+ on a bottle of real maple syrup (which would be a huge chunk of their food budget). A lot of the kids have probably never even tasted real maple syrup once before.

        1. Linley*

          I’ve found in large swaths of the US no one I encounter, regardless of class, seems to consume real maple syrup. They may not even know there is any kind of maple syrup except the artificial kind. My (New York City bred) family once caused an enormous domino effect of confusion in a well-know, quite nice Memphis restaurant simply by asking if the maple syrup was real…

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            There was a recent AITA (Am I The Ahole) on reddit where someone was utterly confused as to why his girlfriend got mad at him for picking up pancake syrup when she asked for maple syrup for a recipe. It had to be explained in the comments what the difference was, and there were a LOT of folks who hadn’t realized the difference. Also a lot of, “so THAT’S why my recipe tasted weird!”

            (For the curious, he was deemed NTA.)

    3. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Yes, what Allypopx said. Unfortunately this is a pretty well-known problem across the board with standardized testing and the field of psychometrics in general.

    4. Super Doctor Astronaut Peter Corbeau*

      The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is a standardized test most high school students take in preparation for college/university. Most universities require your score as a part of the application process. It’s been well documented that white middle and upper class students traditionally do significantly better than other students on the test. I don’t recall all of the specifics as to why, but it’s basically because of the way the tests are written/designed.

      1. Anononon*

        Much of it is that the test presumes a singular, constant knowledge base among test takers, and (shocking!) that knowledge base is one had by people who tend to be upper middle class. For example, a quick google search showed an analogy question where the students had to know that oarsmen participated in regattas.

        1. Nicky in Scotland*

          Thank you – I had Googled seen articles referencing bias in how SAT questions were structured/written and was still wondering how this translated to an actual exam, but this is a great example.

        2. Justin*

          As a Black kid who went to a very white school, I happened to be a French student. And I remember getting the word “carafe,” which I literally only knew because it’s a French word, not because I had a clue that some folks use that to describe certain types of water pitchers. And I was just as “smart” as my classmates.

          So, yeah.

          1. rear mech*

            Yes, this. Before my sister took French and gleefully started teaching us various stock phrases and swears to practice her accent, I would have thought, hmm, carafe, time for process of elimination and some educated guesses, etc etc. On a timed test like the SAT that destroys your score when you have to do it a lot. A lot of these kids just learned a bunch of French loan words from seeing menus in fancy restaurants over and over again. This kind of learning by osmosis is not equal opportunity.
            Sidenote, carafe d’eau is really fun to say properly

            1. Dragon_Dreamer*

              I did fairly well on the SATs, but I read a LOT, and I’m a natural speed reader. The one kid at my high school who got a perfect score managed to party his way into expulsion his first semester of college. (I don’t know the details.) So the SATs, which claim to be a measure of college success, really aren’t. Thankfully, most schools are starting to move a lot of focus away from standardized tests in admissions.

              The GREs (the grad school version of the SATs) are currently not being required by a LOT of schools, due to the pandemic.

          2. mrs__peel*

            There were a number of SAT questions that I did well on only because I went to one of the few inner city schools in my area that offered Latin classes.

        3. JG Obscura*

          Holy heck I’m from a white, upper-middle class background, and I don’t know what a regatta even is.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                Also, I grew up as a white middle class person who sailed, including in various races, and I am not entirely certain about what actually constitutes a “regatta”. I think it’s the boat equivalent of a track meet – different events and races under one larger umbrella event? Or maybe it’s more like a tournament with multiple rounds?

                It’s definitely not an appropriate vocab word for this kind of general-audience test.

              2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

                In Spanish is used for any kind of race involving man-powered vessels (kayaks, boats, yatchs…).

              3. Kayla*

                I’m assuming that an “oarsman” is a person who uses an oar to row a boat, so that makes sense.

        4. Ooh La La*

          That’s a really powerful example. I remember being in elementary school and taking some standardized statewide test. It was a Jewish day school and one of my classmates was from an extremely religious family, so he’d had a sheltered upbringing (no TV, etc.). One of the questions relied on the test taker knowing the date of Christmas. Well, this boy had no idea! He’d never celebrated Christmas, didn’t know anyone who did, and wasn’t exposed to any American media where a non-Christian might pick that detail up. He asked the teacher and she said she wasn’t allowed to tell him. Even as a 10-year old, that struck me as really unfair. There is no unified cultural knowledge base that all Americans have access to, let alone equal access.

          1. Anononon*

            Ugh. Even now at 32, as a secular Jewish person, I have to think for a second that Christmas is on the 25th. As a kid, I don’t know if I would have known. I think I was in my twenties when I realized that (at least in much of America), the stereotypical big Christmas dinner is on the night of the 25th, and not on Christmas Eve, because I’m so used to holidays beginning at night. (Yes, I know there are many traditions that have the big dinner on Christmas Eve.)

          2. Kat*

            Yes, cultural knowledge and access to media are far from universal! I remember being told to do a weeks-long real time assignment on the Barcelona Olympics… and crying with shame on the way home because I didn’t have a TV to watch it on or a newspaper subscription. It’s awful to disadvantage people for something that is a result of their background but has no bearing on their aptitude or ability. I really hope OP can find a way to bring this into the open.

          3. Holy Ramen Empire*

            Gosh, that’s awful. My bf is Jewish and went to nothing but fundamentalist yeshivas until he escaped to a secular college. I try to treat his not-knowing the dates of ANY secular holidays as a personality quirk and not say things like “I love you, but you have impulsively planned a vacation over Fourth of July weekend and made our rental car budget quintuple, are you sure you own a calendar”.

      2. Cat Boss*

        The SAT is also expensive to take, especially multiple times which is sometimes needed to acquuire adequate scores. Also, there are many methods of preparation (books, tutors, online classes) that can greatly increase someone’s ability to do well on these tests but most of it is expensive and only further benefits the same people who are likely to do better on the tests in the first place.

        1. JG Obscura*

          Not to mention just study time in general. A kid who works an after-school job to help support their family isn’t going to have as much free time to study for the SATS.

        2. Laura K*

          I used to be a SAT administrator in my previous life as a high school teacher, and I came to believe that the SAT is a ripoff to students completely unrelated to college success. It’s so expensive (though they do offer vouchers for low income students) and I believe I was overpaid as the test administrator. My pay was based on the number of students taking the test, which always felt a little icky for some reason.

        3. Lora*

          ^This^. I went to a private high school and we had year-long classes, which you could extend for two years if you felt you needed, prepping for ACT and SAT exams. We learned a lot of Latin and Greek root words to deal with the vocabulary and reading comprehension sections, how to quickly estimate math questions instead of actually working out the exact answer, and a TON about gaming the test scoring method: for some standardized test scoring methods, right answers get full credit, not answering doesn’t count against you until some threshold, and wrong answers count against you. In other standardized tests, they count only right answers and you just have to get as many right as possible, but there’s no difference between guessing wrong and not-answering so you’re better off at least trying to guess if you can narrow it down to two best answers. They ran us through practice tests frequently so we would be comfortable with the format and timing.

          When I was in college, if you were a senior who had scored in the top few percentile on the GMAT, GRE or MCAT your junior year, you could make quite decent money working for Kaplan teaching test-taking methods to students who were trying to prepare, running through vocabulary sets and whatnot.

          Think about the Varsity Blues scandal where rich people were paying for their mediocre kids to get into decent universities – that sort of thing continues all the way through life, where if you can afford to buy coaching and support for a qualification, you are much better off than someone who is trying to get the qualification trying to work two jobs and raise a family who doesn’t have time or funds for private tutoring and a whole lot of tries before they pass.

          1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

            The only reason I got an 800 on the essay portion of the SAT (which I think is now gone again?) was because a friend with an SAT tutor told me the formula they were looking for. I’m a good writer but it’s all about gaming the system.

          2. Roci*

            Yes I remember taking a math prep course for people who struggled with math, and being explicitly told to not even answer the last 5 or so questions. The questions increased in difficulty and the last set were too hard for people like me, and wrong answers were penalized while non-answers weren’t. I increased my score by literally refusing to answer the harder questions. That strategy would never have occurred to me unless my parents had been able to shell out money for a prep course.

            1. MsSolo (UK)*

              The point about whether you’re penalised for wrong answers is so important to exam technique – for the A Levels (UK tests at 17 and 18) in some of our subjects questions got harder as you went along, and the highest scoring questions were last, so if you started with the last question and worked backwards you had a better chance of a high score and answering more questions, because you’d be into the swing of it as you moved onto the easier ones. Also, always double check how many of the questions you had to answer, because several sections were “answer one of these three” and you didn’t get extra marks for answering more; they’d just mark the first one they came across. I got 100% in one of those exams, which really shows how important knowing what to answer can be over known how to answer. And to know that, you need to have access to tutors, teachers or family members who can share the info.

        4. The New Wanderer*

          Came here to say this – beyond the nature and underlying assumptions in the question content (which is a fascinating area of study), the expense of preparing for and taking the test can be prohibitive.

          A number of universities stopped requiring SAT scores last year when the tests were cancelled due to the pandemic and students couldn’t take it anyway. Hopefully that trend will continue (not requiring SATs, not pandemic conditions!).

        5. Sparrow*

          In addition to access to test prep, the ability to retake the exam to try for a higher score, and the luxury of the student being able to focus on studying instead of working, if much of the family has gone through a four-year institution, they’re more likely to fully understand the significance of the exam to the process.

          Because of my older siblings, my parents knew how important the SAT could be, so they were willing to invest in a prep-course for me (one subsidized by the school district, but it was still several hundred dollars.) I likely would’ve gotten good scores without it, but being taught how to “properly” interpret the questions and the tricky things to look out for bumped my scores to very good, which helped me secure substantial scholarships. But if my parents hadn’t realized the potential payoff and been able to front the money, that wouldn’t have happened. And if the test was actually about aptitude/knowledge and not about knowing how to take test, that class wouldn’t have made a difference in the first place.

        6. Autumnheart*

          I didn’t even know test prep was a thing until well into adulthood. We took the ACT at my school, and I took it cold. I did okay (26) but I certainly didn’t study or have any kind of prep beforehand. I didn’t even know that was a thing. Just “this was a test you have to take to go to college, be at the test site at such-and-such time”. This was about 1990, so I don’t know if test prep was a thing back then, but while I grew up in a middle class white family, my parents were very typical boomer parents. They didn’t go to conferences, they didn’t help with homework, and the extent of their involvement with my academics was pretty much “bring home a good report card or you’re grounded”. That was true for me and all my friend group. I don’t think my parents even paid for me to take the test. I had a part-time job and was expected to cover my own expenses.

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            My sister and I took the SAT in 1990 and 1992 respectively, and test prep was VERY much a thing then. We both took not-cheap several-weeks-long SAT prep courses on Saturday mornings, as did most of our peers.

            However, to the point being made all though this comment section, we were raised upper-middle class in an urban area by college-educated parents, and attended competitive elite private prep schools (despite not being white or male, I definitely knew what a regatta was, heh). We were already the people likely to do well, and so test prep was just another log on the fire.

            1. Aitch Arr*

              I had a similar upbringing and test prep was definitely a thing. (Took the SAT in 1991 and 1992.)

              Fun fact: I grew up near where the oldest collegiate competition in the US has been held since 1852. It’s a regatta.

            2. nonegiven*

              I think my sister had a prep course in the late 70s. I didn’t in the mid 70s.

              1. nonegiven*

                A few weeks ago, I saw on a newspaper headline about kids having to take the citizenship test to graduate high school. I don’t know if it made it through the state legislature or not.

        7. Dragon_Dreamer*

          The GREs are worse. $200 a pop, $150 for each “specialty” test you have to take as well, you only get half the money back if you cancel OR qualify for financial aid (yes, it’s a reimbursement, NOT a discount), AND it’s $50 every time you want/have to reschedule.

      3. Imprudence*

        Test writing is really hard. In the UK, 11 year old used to take a test at the end of primary school. I remember the year there was a writing one where you had to invent a imaginary pet and describe how to care for it. Seems fair enough, till you realise that pet owning is a middle class thing, and some kids had literally no experience of pet owning to draw on. Same with a trip to the seaside. It’s difficult to find interesting topics that all kids have experience of. Giving kids those experiences ends up being part of their literacy education.

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          Once it stopped being the 11 plus, that test was also known as the SATS, just to confuse things in this thread! I don’t know if it still is, though.

          1. BubbleTea*

            The 11 plus still exists in places where there are grammar schools – I took it 20 years ago (obviously that isn’t hugely recent but it was increasingly rare then). The year 6 SATS are separate and continue to be standard, whereas the 11 plus entrance exams are specific to the selective schools who use the test.

      4. Marillenbaum*

        If someone is looking for a good book on this, Joseph Soares’ “The Power of Privilege” explains how the College Board designed the SAT explicitly to gatekeep non-white people out of the Ivy League.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      The “common knowledge” and baseline understanding needed to perform well on the test is weighted for white upper-middle class men. New immigrants, non-white, poor people will miss questions because of cultural differences and not because of a lack of knowledge about what the test is supposed to be testing.

      1. SINE*

        100%. Back when then writing SAT II was still a thing, I remember one of the essay topics basically asking to explain “every cloud has a silver lining” and whether I agreed with it + why/why not. I grew up in Asia and, while I went to an English speaking school, I had never heard of this saying before. I flat out wrote that I had no idea what that phrase meant, assumed they didn’t want me to guess, and so I couldn’t defend it one way or another.

      2. Erin*

        My parents are doctors, both from poor white families in the South. Both obviously skilled and intelligent people. Compared to my high score on the SAT 30 years later, my dad scored so badly on a comparable test in high school his counselor recommended he forget college and become a general laborer. Difference of a few decades, money and family support my dad didnt get.

    6. Unladen European Swallow*

      In addition to all of the other comments here, the strongest correlation, BY FAR, between scores on the SATs and other demographic metrics is between SAT scores and household income. Basically, those with more income can afford to take prep courses (which can often run into the thousands of dollars) before taking the exam, as well as the money to take the exam multiple times to improve their scores.

      Not to mention those who illegally pay someone else to take the exam on their kid’s behalf (*cough cough* Operation Varsity Blues *cough cough*).

      1. Kimmy Schmidt*

        And it doesn’t even have to be that obvious. Growing up with the money to own books, magazine subscriptions, newspapers, a computer, better internet access, as many pens and notebooks as you need, etc. Over time, that adds up to quite an advantage.

      2. Anononon*

        Yup. Any aptitude test where people consistently improve their score from learning how to take the test and taking the test multiple times…is not a good aptitude test.

        1. Well...*

          Ohh yes how you can practice for it. I took it a second time trying to boost my math score up to get a scholarship. I didn’t improve my math score, but I improved on the other sections significantly just by practicing the timed problems. The wildly different score really convinced me how much of a racket it was.

        2. MassMatt*

          Can confirm. I bought a “cracking the GRE” book for the grad-school equivalent to the SAT’s, I worked through it for a couple weeks before my exam and my scores on sample tests shot up a few hundred points. I can only imagine what kind of advantages year-long courses, tutors, etc could buy.

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            I bought the “GRE for Dummies” and a course website subscription. Turned out the latter was for students from India. The “for Dummies” book made the example math questions WAY easier than the actual test, the website made them MUCH harder. (I still ended up in the 59th percentile for my math score.)

            The rigorousness of the prep materials/classes can also affect scores. Pay for the “cheap” SAT or GRE classes/materials, get a less thorough preparation. Folks I know who got the highest scores in the math section were able to afford the $1500 GRE classes.

            (I got VERY high scores in the verbal and essay sections, BUT I’m a literary-brained autistic who reads FAR too much. I’m able to BS an essay on the fly with ease, but a LOT of folks find it much harder.)

        3. Aitch Arr*

          This even extends as far as the PHR/SPHR/GPHR… you take a prep course and practice practice practice.

      3. Sj*

        Yep exactly. I spent a long time tutoring for the ACT and our students would be whip-smart but many have never encountered the looooong multiple choice style that the SAT/ACT use. If you’ve never sat for a multiple hour test, had the structure of the questions explained (if you know what to look for you can rule out most of the answer options right away), or even things like finding a ride to a school on a Saturday, you’re not going to score as well as the kids who have those resources.

        1. Sj*

          Highly recommend “The Big Test” by Nicholas Lemann if you’re interested in the history of the SAT and how we got here

      4. Reba*

        The SAT has long been called the Student Affluence Test.

        Some research shows that test prep actually has little impact on scores; the gap between poor and wealthy students is much greater than what prep/no prep could create. The college board has even experimented with making more test prep available for free; it didn’t make much of a dent.

        There was a long read in Forbes not long ago called “How the SAT Failed America.”

        I really hope more universities go to test-optional admissions!

        1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          Well, having time to prep is also a factor, as well as having the knowledge that prep exists, is free, and has the potential to be beneficial. Basically I don’t think “experimenting” with making free prep more available is really a good indicator of anything.

          But I agree, prep is just one factor under the category of things affected by affluence.

          1. Reba*

            Yes, we are totally in agreement! I was responding to a comment suggesting that income = “can pay for prep courses” (which I think is a common response to learning that the test correlates to socio-economic status) — it’s also all that knowledge and cultural competence around accessing resources and as you say, the privilege of time.

        2. pancakes*

          Free test prep is a great idea, but kids who are working part-time jobs still won’t have the same access to its benefits their peers who don’t have to work do.

          My undergrad school did away with requiring SAT scores in the early 2000s, but even when I was applying, in the mid-90s, there was a heavy emphasis on writing samples, which maybe aren’t much more equitable.

          1. Lizzo*

            Curious if you have suggestions for something other than writing samples that could help provide valuable information about an applicant’s skills and abilities beyond their high school transcripts. Interviews are one thing that come to mind, but that also seems fraught with problems (i.e. privilege).

            1. pancakes*

              I don’t, particularly, and I’m curious what the latest thinking on best practices is. Interviews could be a big problem in terms of discrimination for all the same reasons job interviews often are. At least with writing samples you can mask the applicant’s name, but there’s plenty of room for inequalities and biases to come into play without it.

      5. Person from the Resume*

        This is a relatively new thing, though. In the late 80s and early 90s, test prep classes and tutoring was just getting started. That has totally influenced the more recent fairness of the SAT and ACT test results. This seems less of am impact on a professional exam.

        However before (month-long, year-long) test prep classes, the results were still skewed in favor of white rich guys because of the way the questions were written. This seems like the biggest impact on a professional exam that can’t support the a massive test prep industry that exists for the SAT.

    7. CJ*

      The short version is the SAT is very good at predicting socio-economic status in primary and secondary education years. As a spillover, that does correlate with academic performance in some situations at some schools. All told, in most cases, GPA is as effective a predictor of first-year success, and no current testing methods are fantastic are great at later-year success prediction.

      I don’t remember if I have link permissions, but if so:
      * WaPo 2019 article on the untesting trend:
      * IHE 2016 on the inaccuracy of predictiveness:
      * PACE 2019 on comparative accuracy:

      1. Blackcat*

        “All told, in most cases, GPA is as effective a predictor of first-year success, and no current testing methods are fantastic are great at later-year success prediction.”
        Perhaps this is because humans are capable of growth and intelligence isn’t a fixed, easily measurable thing!

        I recall a study a while back on the several GRE subject tests. Similar to the SAT, there is a correlation with first year grades, however the correlations were weak or even negative (!!) when they tried to measure research success. Like, who would have thunk that someone’s ability to do well on a harshly timed, memorization-heavy test is not actually predictive of long term success in professions that require complex problem solving!

    8. No Tribble At All*

      The SAT test is a nationwide standardized test taken by 10th and 11th-graders (2 and 1 yrs before graduating high school) in most of the US. It’s created and run by an independent company, the Princeton Review, and there’s a popular competitor in different regions called the ACT. It has multiple choice sections for reading comprehension/language and math, as well as a short essay. Supposedly it’s so colleges can assess students coming from different states (because US primary education varies wildly). Not only are scores required for college admission, you can earn scholarships and even test out of low-level college classes based on your SAT score. So for high schoolers, the test significantly affects which colleges you’re accepted to & are able to attend. In practice your score directly correlates to social-economic status (who can hire tutors, which schools have specific SAT-prep classes) and race/gender.

      There’s a small but growing backlash against it because of the damning research. A lot of colleges waived the SAT requirements due to COVID, because the test can’t be administered at home. Links to articles about the biases in my next comment.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        Another example of biased questions are sports-based ones, where if you lack the context of American football rules, you have to figure out what it’s asking; and there was another study that sports questions also invoke stereotype threat in girls (because girls aren’t allowed to play American football).

      2. Nicky in Scotland*

        Are the SAT/ACTs curriculum-based like exams in the UK? E.g, you’ll study particular books for English, particular problems in maths, particular topics in sciences etc. knowing in advance they’ll come up in your exams. Or is it just a big free for all that may or may not be based on what you’ve studied that year?

        1. Kimmy Schmidt*

          Not really, and it varies wildly between school districts and states. Some schools offer a designated SAT prep course, but it doesn’t really teach you the topics on the test. It’s more like “how to take a test” – effective study habits, not second guessing yourself, don’t spend too much time on each question, guess C if you don’t know the answer.

          There are types of questions that are often used each year, and many SAT prep courses will use those as example questions.

          But if you never take an SAT prep course (I didn’t), you’ve likely never been prepared for this specific test.

          1. Reba*

            Yes, state level annual tests often have these, where the curriculum and the testing regime are related.

            Unless you are my high school, and you decide to offer some of the content during senior year that is tested at the end of the junior year :P We watched a lot of movies in that class.

          2. Nicky in Scotland*

            Good grief, this explains a lot. When reading about the issues with the SATs, I couldn’t quite grasp how there could be such disparity in a standardised test, because all of our UK exams are curriculum based – basically, if you attend your classes, you will at some point be taught the stuff you need to know for your exams (and each subject is tested separately). Not that there aren’t equality issues in the UK – of course income/background has an affect on educational attainment, but at least the exams themselves are usually based on knowledge that everyone (in theory) should have equal access to.

            1. Blackcat*

              Those are more like AP/IB exams in the US. Those are tied to particular courses with nationally set standards. There’s still some bias in them, but they do measure something useful.

              1. katherine*

                Not sure how much of this has a corollary in the UK, but AP tests differ from the description above in two ways:

                1) The AP classes preparing students are electives that many people may not be able to take (I never took AP Calculus because I wasn’t on the advanced math track and was only up to precalculus by the time students usually took it; sometimes they also conflict schedule-wise with courses you need to graduate).
                2) The actual test costs money.

            2. ecnaseener*

              Individual states are in charge of curriculum-based standardized tests that you need to pass in order to graduate (and via the No Child Left Behind act, schools were penalized for low performance on these tests).
              The SAT (or ACT) isn’t required to graduate high school.

            3. An American(ish) Werewolf in London*

              For what it’s worth, Nicky, the SAT have questions similar to some 11+ questions – designed to ‘test’ aptitude and logical thinking (supposedly) and problem solving (along with vocabulary and maths skills, rather than subject knowledge.

              Like with the 11+, rich kids, white kids and those who are prepped for the exam tend to perform better than equally smart kids from less privileged backgrounds.

            4. Myrin*

              Yeah, I’ve never paid much mind to questions about SAT and other such tests because they don’t exist here, so I was always quietly wondering the same thing as you and now it’s finally clicked!

        2. Fried Eggs*

          No, the SATs are supposed to test critical thinking skills, not subject knowledge.

          This is the thing about them that is obvious to Americans and confusing to non-Americans. It’s also where the bias comes in.

          Part of the test evaluates critical thinking with math problems, which is kind of objective (though many students take expensive prep courses to practice the kinds of math problems they’ll get on the test).

          But the other way these tests assess critical thinking is with language puzzles, like analogies. The most famous example of this is this question:

          Runner is to marathon as
          a) envoy is to embassy.
          b) martyr is to massacre.
          c) oarsman is to regatta.
          d) horse is to stable.

          This is not something kids learn in school, and it uses words rich white kids are more likely to know and have a nuanced understanding of.

          Another example would be something like using a reading comprehension text about American football, which women are less likely to be able to effortlessly follow.

          1. katherine*

            The other thing about the SATs is that they really push a certain kind of critical thinking that, if you have not taken a lot of test prep courses, may not be immediately obvious.

            Like in the runner/marathon question, a student might pick B because, just as a runner may take part in a marathon, a martyr may take part in a massacre. But this kind of question is asking students to choose the best answer, not any plausible answer. And the gap between the best answer and another plausible answer isn’t always that wide. The “Romeo and Juliet” question upthread is another good example.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Okay now I remember that stuff. It was exhausting. The test was an endurance contest.

          3. Renee*

            I disagree these are words that only rich white kids will have encountered. Anyone who reads widely is going to have a far greater vocabulary and general understanding of experiences outside their own, as well as developing the skills to figure out likely meanings for new words based on context. Even someone who has never attended or been exposed to a regatta is able to answer this question through process of elimination.

            Poverty is no barrier to reading widely, as the world is full of reading material obtainable for free or at very little cost, and the ability to read and comprehend complex language is a huge component of successfully completing higher education.

            It’s time to start encouraging children to read widely from a young age instead of spending their time on war games and sending emojis and snapchats to each other. In this modern age of information excess there is no reason for anyone’s cultural background or race to prevent them from accessing knowledge about the world around them.

            1. Kayla*

              I taught myself to read at age 4, read voraciously as a child, and got an 800 on the verbal SAT. I still wouldn’t be able to confidently say that an oarsman competes in a regatta. I know what an oar is, and that a regatta is some kind of boat event. So, I’d probably have *guessed* the correct answer, just because a martyr isn’t the one doing the massacre and embassy and stable aren’t events, but I wouldn’t have been confident. IMO it’s a terrible question.

        3. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          THE SAT is a general test. I’m not sure what they’re doing now, but when I took it there was a math section and two English sections (a reading section and a writing section essentially, including an essay).

          You CAN take Subject Area Tests (or, once again, you could when I was taking it) in English, Math, History, various sciences, and languages. I took one because a college I was applying to required at least one, I think. But they are optional and I didn’t even know they existed until I saw the requirement on my application materials.

          Also they kind of suck. I took 4 years of Spanish and when I looked at the study materials for the Spanish subject tests, there were vocab words I didn’t know in the first question. So I didn’t take that one.

          1. Andy*

            Math and English are both subjects. And both are learnable. There is no way to create math or English test in which advance preparation makes no difference.

            And it don’t even make sense as a requirement. School is all about learning and preparing.

        4. MassMatt*

          This is another big criticism of the test, the company behind it has tried to update it with very limited success, really it focuses on only two things, math and “verbal” skills, the latter really about reading comprehension and especially vocabulary. There is no science, history, or any other subject area. There is a rival test, the ACT, which does include science, but it is not nearly as widely accepted–mostly in the south and midwest. I had never heard of it until I went to college and met people from the midwest.

          1. Lizzy*

            Wait, really? I’ve lived in Texas my whole life and here taking the SAT and ACT almost always go hand in hand. Everyone I know took both tests at least once. It was kind of A Thing to take your first round of each at the end of junior year and the second round at the beginning of senior year. It never occurred to me that there are students who don’t take the ACT.

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              Yeah, I graduated from high school in Texas in 2004 and definitely thought they were two sides of the same coin.

            2. Person from the Resume*

              Yes. I grew up in Louisiana and I took the ACT multiple times. Only took the SAT once because the schools I was applying to took only the ACT or took both. Once you get out of the south though, the SAT was more valued and used.

            3. Le Sigh*

              Went to school in the mid-Atlantic and South. At least where I was, the SAT was default. The ACT was only on your radar if you were applying to schools that required them in other regions. But no school I applied to (primarily in the South) required the ACT so I didn’t bother.

            4. Iowa Teacher*

              Yes, it varies widely depending where you live. I grew up in Indiana and everyone takes the SAT only unless they’re going out of state for university. I teach in Iowa now and the students here take the ACT but not the SAT.

            5. MCMonkeybean*

              I graduated high school in NC in 2007 and did not take the ACT. I think where I lived there was almost a cultural bias against it–like the attitude was that people only took the ACT if they thought they weren’t likely to do well enough on the SAT. It was all very weird to be honest.

          2. pieforbreakfast*

            I grew up in Denver and did both ACT and SAT. I aced the former and bombed the latter. I still got into the college I was aiming for.
            I was so-so on the GRE years later, so standardized tests may just not be my forte.

          3. Linley*

            I went to high school just outside NYC in the late 1990s/early 2000s and the ACT was definitely much less common. And it was sort of looked down on; if she couldn’t get a decent (which in my milieu = high) SAT score then you might try the ACT. My school was private but this seemed to be true among people I knew in public school as well.

        5. Aitch Arr*

          No, but Achievement/Advanced Placement Tests are.

          You can score high enough on those exams to have some college course requirements/prerequisites waived.

      3. many bells down*

        And let me tell you, I did not get accepted to any colleges in the strength of my GPA. I was a very indifferent student who is very very good at taking standardized tests. It literally can be the difference between getting in and not getting in.

        1. Anononon*

          Yeah, it’s like the LSATs for law school, which are even worse. It is often generally accepted that law school admission is about 75% LSAT score, 20% GPA, and 5% “soft” criteria, like other experience/a good essay, etc.

      4. PT*

        The SAT is run by the College Board, not the Princeton Review.

        Princeton Review runs prep courses.

        1. Anononon*

          Just for additional clarification for non-US readers, the College Board is a third-party nonprofit organization. It’s not an official, governmental “college board.”

          1. katherine*

            For even more additional clarification: The College Board is a non-profit organization, but they still charge fees for their tests. They also nickel-and-dime you for a lot of things, like changing your test date. Fee waivers are available but not automatic.

    9. RJ*

      I remember taking weeks and weeks of prep courses and boot camps for standardized testing. Access to extra courses and my parents’ knowledge to even be putting me through them are luxuries that low income families don’t always have. I’m pretty sure my score went from the 74th percentile to the 97th due to those courses.

      That is the main reason why middle and upper class people score better, more money and resources to dedicate to getting a higher score.

    10. The Price is Wrong Bob*

      A good example is asking questions using animals that might exist in the suburbs where wealthy white people live, vs. in cities where a diverse group of people live. Or about activities one would never do if one lives in an apartment instead of in a house with a yard. So it’s harder to pick out analogies if you just have no frame of reference because of your lived experience and these experiences are not universal.

      1. Blackcat*

        Happens in STEM classes a lot, too. Look at textbooks that talk about, say, forces you feel when taking off in an airplane vs forces you feel on a bus ride.
        The SAT (and GRE) analogies got ditched a while back precisely because their so biased.

    11. Person Of Interest*

      The SAT is a standardized test that can heavily impact college and career choices. The issue is that the questions are biased in favor of white people, particularly financially well-off white men. A relatively well-known example is a vocab question, Runner is to Marathon as Regatta is to_________________. The correct answer is oarsman. Who the hell other than rich white kids knows what a regatta is?

        1. MCMonkeybean*

          I was an extremely voracious reader as a child and yet I’m positive I never once read a book about a regatta. Why is this comment section so full of people who seem to think children should somehow be able to read every single book on the planet by the time they take the SATs???

  7. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Much, much, much smaller scale but I turned whistleblower on a former employer and it led, in part, to the CEOs ending up in prison. I turned over information that wasn’t known outside of the company (very small firm mind you) because I found out the firm was hurting a LOT of people in a very illegal way.

    Am I proud of my actions? Yes. I couldn’t live with the guilt of knowing how many people were being conned out of their money (in some cases, people who couldn’t afford to lose it).

    Is it an easy decision? No. I’ll be honest, I’m still suffering from that year (high court appearances are not conducive to my mental health, nor is having the press after me) and naturally I lost that job and have zero chances of ever getting a reference from it.

    However, knowing the stress, would I do it again?


        1. High Score!*

          Extremely admirable. And when it doesn’t feel like it just remember that you can look in the mirror with a clear conscious bc you did the right thing. That is a quality that more humans need.

    1. TiffIf*

      Can you give some detail (anonymized obviously) on the process you took for exposing your former employer? There’s some suggestions in this thread about going to a journalist, going to a lawyer, going to a related government regulator, etc. What route did you take?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Not knowing frankly much of what I was doing, I found a lawyer who was taking a case against the firm for precisely the stuff they were doing for one of our clients and offered to spill the beans. By the time I’d handed over the data it ended up being a much bigger legal firm in charge, some 300 claimants and the high court getting involved.

        Under UK law I still don’t know if that was the right or wrong way.

    2. JB*

      You did the right thing. I don’t know exactly what industry your firm was in or who was impacted by their actions, but, on their behalf and on the behalf of future victims-to-be that you protected, thank you.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      Do you have any advice for the OP based on that experience that might help them in their situation?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*


        start looking for another job (I didn’t. Bugger)

        get the data together and organised and clear enough in your head so when you’re questioned by whomever you report this to you can answer clearly and concisely (I did manage that bit)

        protect thine mental health in any way that helps you personally. It’s gonna be a stressful time, to whatever extent, and if you can chat to a therapist/doctor/insert medical professional here about it that can be a big help (I didn’t think things would get bad, and I don’t have great mental health to start with. I’d have spoken to my GP at least if I did it again)

        Being a whistleblower does also mean keeping a lot of stuff secret from others while a case is going on (sometimes). My husband only found out exactly what was going on after the court issued a verdict. This bit however differs on the nature of what you’re reporting – if you’re not going to be required for further information/legal stuff then ignore that.

        Above all: remember why you’re doing this. In those dark moments of ‘what have I done?!’ it’s a lifesaver to have a reminder that you did it for a real and honest GOOD.

    4. slater-n*

      I just listened to an episode of Cautionary Tales about whistleblowers. They all said the same thing as you – personally, it sucked, but they were glad they did it. If I’m every in the same circumstance I would hope I would do the same thing as you. When I’m on my deathbed looking back and my life I hope I can say I spoke out for what was right.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yeah, I kinda loved how the barrister put it to me: that I made a choice to save others but in the process injured myself. Minor injuries though, I’m still alive and yeah, I couldn’t have lived with the guilt if I hadn’t done anything.

    5. Jane of all Trades*

      Thank you for doing what you did. Piggy-backing off this to say – OP, in your planning, you should assume that this will cost you your job. It seems that there are no anonymous reporting avenues available to you, otherwise I assume you would have pursued that. Even if there is a policy against retaliation, think about whether there is a way to push you out more slowly (eg. Negative performance reviews, eliminating your role, whatever).
      Talk to a lawyer, and before you talk to anybody else in the organization about this, make sure that you have enough data to prove what you are alleging here (even if you were to lose access to the computer system). This information may well be confidential, so, again, talk to a lawyer so you don’t end up in trouble on that front.
      I agree with Allison that you should blow the whistle on this, but to try and ensure that you are ok you need to think about a timeline – can you start looking for a new job, and once you have started the new job, blow the whistle on the old one? It might be hard to land a new job if you don’t have recent reference due to this coming out, and if you are somehow implicated in the blowback. It would be easier for you to already be at a new job if that happens.
      Good luck!

    6. Self Employed*

      Thank you for doing it. I am sorry doing the right thing has made your life more difficult.

  8. Tex*

    There are some legal whistleblower protections in place. Hopefully you can engage a lawyer who is familiar with them before you say something publicly.

  9. CatCat*

    Definitely talk to a lawyer. And really, really think about whether you are financially, emotionally, and physically ready for your life to potentially explode. I worked at an org that helped whistleblowers and so many had their lives devastated by blowing the whistle (no job, no insurance, mired in lawsuits, blackballed in their field). Many regretted it though it was a good and ethical and moral choice that they had made sometimes with literal lives on the line. This was a couple decades ago so maybe the landscape has changed. But definitely talk to a lawyer, and quite frankly, maybe also a counselor to work through the emotional and personal moral components of what is involved here.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I wish I’d had an organisation around like that before I did my whistleblower routine.

      I would still do it again, but there’s no denying there’s now a job I can’t put on my CV (well, depending on the industry) and I’ve got zero chance of ever getting a reference from (not unless it’s mailed from one of her majesty’s prisons and includes vile insinuations of my character). Do wish I’d known also how darn LONG investigations take too.

  10. Jam Today*

    *to the tune of The Smiths’ “Hang the DJ”*

    Blow the whistle
    Blow the whistle
    Blow the whistle
    BLOW the whi-stle
    Blow the whistle
    BLOW the whi-stle
    Blow the whistle

  11. AnonforThis*

    Agreed on talking to a lawyer first. If you are regulated by a particular government agency that may be a route to take. But 100% lawyer first to protect yourself.

  12. Super Doctor Astronaut Peter Corbeau*

    “Plus, it’d be a pretty easy guess who the leak was, and I do need my health insurance badly.”

    This isn’t helpful in anyway, I just need to document for my own sanity how much I HATE IT HERE.

    1. Allypopx*

      Thank you because I was muddling a comment around in my head that basically amounted to this as well.

      Like we preach “do the right thing even when it’s hard you’ll be a hero!” and not only do you have to put your life through the woodchipper to do it there are no basic guarantees for things like your basic health and wellbeing after you do.

      The extent to which jobs hold people hostage is nauseating.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        This is a part of a good argument for not having our health insurance connected to our jobs.

        1. Anonymous Hippo*

          The goodness of the argument depends on whether you are talking to an employer or an employee. I think a big part of the reason it is private is to exactly have that control over you.

          ‘Course, I’m in a depressive mood about the state of capitalism at the moment and may be a bit paranoid.

          1. Starbuck*

            Also depends on the employer – you’d think small businesses would be thrilled at the idea, since it’s such an expensive benefit to offer if you’re trying to compete with a larger company.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes, absolutely. People who have decent health insurance or are covered under someone else’s insurance do not understand what a big deal it is to lose coverage. For people without insurance, or with minimal insurance, one major health issue, or even a car accident, can wipe out life savings.

        If one of my friends came to me with this LW’s dilemma, I would advise her to contact a journalist and continue to work against the policies internally, and start searching for a new job. I get the suggestion of contacting a whistleblower attorney, but that’s something else that will cost money the LW might not be able to spare.

  13. It’s a Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s SuperAnon*

    Is there an entity that the nonprofit reports to, as this test is required to work in the profession? I’m imagining this is something along the lines of the PE exam, or nursing boards, or bar exam, so while your workplace designs and administers the test, you’re really working on behalf of some other association or maybe even government office that could step in and force action sooner.

    1. Allypopx*

      Interesting – given that OP thinks public backlash is necessary I was reading it more as a PMP certification where the institute that administers it is also the “licensing board” as it were. You might be right though, that’s good advice.

      1. Hillary*

        PMP came to mind for me too, and my first reaction was that CSCMP would want to know. But I can think of five more off the bat, it’s not just them. (And there’s an example of SAT-privilege language. Oops)

        If it’s a professional certification, there are probably national nonprofits that support the community. At least one of those should have a commitment to diversity and also have enough data to “discover” the issue independently. Those nonprofits and the companies that employ their members/sponsor the org can put pressure on the certifying body very effectively.

    2. Kaitydidd*

      That’s a good idea. I imagine the Department of Licensing would like to know about this if the actual licensure is issued by the government. I did find myself wondering if this test was the one I took for my professional license. There are so many white men in it, and there’s definitely a conservative skew among the established folks.

    3. Global Cat Herder*

      I have a kid in medical school, so I thought of the USMLE as an example, because that’s what I’m familiar with. (This is just an illustrative example, I am not speculating about the LW’s employer!) For the USMLE, the nonprofit itself IS the overarching national entity. A nonprofit creates the test, which is administered to all medical students in the US.

      Scores determine the residencies you can apply to. So the scores on that test not only determine whether you can practice, they determine what type of medicine and, to some extent, where. “Well, dermatology is out, I didn’t score in the top 10%.”

    4. OP*

      Hey! OP here. We’re in a weird position where we technically report to authorities like nursing boards, but they’re … pretty suggestible. They’d also have difficulty forcing any action unless every state agency united and moved something forward, which is unlikely.

    5. Homebody*

      That is excellent advice.

      As someone who took the PE Exam last month, and noticed a lot of problems with how the exam is structured (test prep materials can run in the thousands, it requires lots of time outside of work to prepare, the amount of material seen favors people who are in particular roles, etc.), I would not be surprised if professional exams discriminate in other not-easily-seen ways. And if the company is similar to NCEES they are not receptive to feedback. It’s a terrible system, all around, and I would not be sad to see it go.

  14. Bex*

    I agree that blowing the whistle is the right call, and wanted to add that you, OP, will not actually be causing the harm that might come to your company and coworkers in the process. Your company is causing that by their unethical behavior. Continuing to help keep this secret is probably only delaying that harm, while also allowing more test-takers to be harmed by the racial bias in the meantime. I understand that doesn’t make speaking up easy to do or protect you from consequences. But it really is the right thing.

    1. London Lass*

      That’s a really good point and something I think OP may need to remind themselves of on a regular basis.

  15. anony*

    OP, I’m cheering you on! You sound clear and determined.
    Others will have the advice. I’m here to offer a virtual cup of tea and couch as you navigate the aftermath. A family friend was a whistleblower when I was growing up. It was challenging for sure, but she’s still proud of doing it all these years later, and many people are grateful and better off for it.

  16. EBStarr*

    This situation sucks. It’s unfair to you and deeply unfair to the non-white-male people who are taking this biased test year after year while your board denies that there’s a problem.

    I agree with Alison… you need to blow the whistle. I think “This is wrong, but I can advocate for change from the inside” is sometimes legit but often a way for people to justify working with a system that doesn’t bear working with. (And it’s a scary, uncertain world for people who lose their jobs so I’m not judging people all that harshly for doing so. I just think that it’s worth being clear-eyed with yourself what decision you’re making.) Keep asking yourself what you’ll wish you’d done in ten years, or twenty.

  17. Brett*

    As someone who once did test development for a major testing company that everyone has heard of and creates tests like the ones being talked about here…

    5 years is unbelievable optimistic for developing a new test, especially one that eliminates biases already inherent in the testing.

    Assuming this is not a professional test development organization, 10 years is optimistic unless they want to pay an enormous mount of money (7-8 figures) to a professional test development organization. The current tests like this from those organization have a constant pipeline of development to keep continuously updating the test.

    To give an idea, adding a new section the the existing flagship test at the org I worked for took 7 years just from the initial release into the testing pool (as an ungraded developmental section) to an official optional test, and is taking another 20 years to move it from optional to required. When I worked on question development, it typically took 6 months to put each individual question from development through bias review.

    1. Allypopx*

      This context is very helpful to understand the OPs position, thank you.

      In that case…would whistleblowing even do anything?

      1. Brett*

        I think the likely outcome is probably ending use of the test, or greatly reducing its impact (e.g. making it an optional way to qualify). Of course, creating alternative qualification paths takes a long time too.
        But I also think this means the OP has way too high of expectations on how quickly change can be made (but then the question comes if change is being made… is the test being rewritten, are new versions being tested, have they engaged an appropriate company or hired their own psychometrists.)

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        It may drive people to alternate tests, or cause other orgs to reduce their dependency on that test in hiring / admissions. University of California no longer considers SAT or ACT in admissions, for example.

      3. Percysowner*

        Whistleblowing would at least alert minorities that they ARE getting lower scores through no fault of their own. You can’t fight something you don’t know exists. Once they do know, they can exert pressure to find alternate ways to attain the certification, or whatever this test covers, they need.

        1. Forrest*

          Yes, this is HUGE! There’s “we realise we have massive inequalities embedded in our system and we’re slow to change but we are working on it and we’re going to hold ourselves accountable (and let all those people of colour who’ve been disadvantaged by the test know that they were disadvantaged)”, and there’s “don’t tell anyone, let everyone think it’s fine and all those white guys got there on merit *Wandavisom fake-wink gif*”

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Then the industry needs to figure out a different plan for licensing because it’s not okay to say they’re going to penalize non-white candidates for 10+ years.

      1. Brett*

        That’s basically what I just posted. Rather than a new test, they probably have to stop using the test and go with an alternative path to licensing.

        1. Kaitydidd*

          I wouldn’t be mad if that happened. I sat for two tests, 8 hours each, for licensure. It was incredibly stressful and I don’t use the majority of the content in my actual job, anyway.

      2. SomebodyElse*

        But what does that even look like? I’m curious as to what an alternative to a test could be? I’m thinking back to some of the licensure tests I’ve taken and have no clue how the same result (making sure that qualified people are allowed to do X) other than a test.

        1. Brett*

          A lot of professions use manually scored portfolios for certification or provide an option of a manually scored portfolio. You have to train (and pay) a diverse group of professionals from your industry, so the cost of processing goes up but you can spin that up faster than a new testing system. Also means the org needs to make sure that there are scholarship options for the portfolio, but should already have a mechanism like that for the test.

          The huge drawback of a portfolio is that it puts a massive time commitment on the part of the applicant with no guarantee of success. For the profession I do now, I probably spent around 300 hours across 5 years putting my experience based portfolio together (and opted not to renew because my current role does not require certification nor even offer higher pay for it). My wife’s profession has a graded performance portfolio, and it took her 7 years and easily 500 hours to put it together.

          1. SomebodyElse*

            I’m thinking about licensing and certification boards where you generally go in and take a test to prove competency in subject matter and regulations/laws. (Securities, Medical Boards, Law Boards, Professional assoc (ASQ, APICS, PMP, etc).

            I’m now curious what professions use portfolios :)

            So many questions today!

            1. I'm just here for the cats*

              I was thinking what about things like Real estate licensure tests. There really is no way to tell if a person has the necessary qualifications besides to test.

        2. PT*

          It really depends on what they are, and the OP left that bit of information out. You can’t just ditch the medical licensing boards overnight because that would be chaos. But you can probably substantially alter the test for hairstylist licensing pretty quickly, since a licensing agency’s goal is to prevent harm to the public through “don’t spread disease or cut anyone or hurt them with chemicals” and a bad haircut is not harm.

          1. Foof*

            I actually doubt much would change with ditching medical board exams except young drs (or their employers) would have a couple extra grand and a lot less stress.

        3. QED*

          Don’t know what field OP’s test is for, but in law, for example, Wisconsin allows graduates from Wisconsin ABA-accredited law schools to practice in Wisconsin without taking the bar exam, and there’s no evidence that there’s any real difference between them and lawyers who pass the bar exam in terms of protecting the public and legal competency. So getting rid of the exam wouldn’t hurt anyone.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I think in some states and/or many years ago, there were options to be admitted to the bar and practice as a lawyer based on an apprenticeship system rather than through passing the bar exam.

            1. Sarah*

              The practice of becoming an apprentice to a lawyer before taking the bar exam is called “reading the law”. It is legal in my state and I know two individuals who became lawyers that way.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                In some cases I think the apprenticeship is instead of law school rather than in place of taking the bar, now that I think about it. At least I think that’s how it works in California these days?

                But the point remains – there are often alternatives to standardized licensing exams for ensuring that people are qualified for their profession. What’s appropriate will vary depending on the field, of course.

            2. pancakes*

              Yes, in NY it was called reading for the bar. There was an older woman partner who’d done it at the first firm I worked at, between my 1st and 2nd years of law school.

        4. LizM*

          It may be that you’re required to work under the supervision of a qualified, licensed individual for a certain number of years.

          I took the bar exam, and it basically meant I could retain a little bit about a lot of different kinds of law for a few weeks. After taking that test, I was in no way prepared to advise clients, write or file briefings, or try a case. The area of law I ended up specializing in wasn’t even on the test.

          But the State Bar said I could go out and practice law with minimal oversight because I passed a 2 day test.

          1. Not YOUR Lawyer*

            Yup – ask me how much I remember about real estate and contract law. Those were about 1/4 of the test (including the essays) the year I took it. Requiring internships or apprenticeships would be a much better idea.

            It was interesting to find out that in my state I could take a criminal case where someone might get life in prison the day I was admitted, but to represent a parent in a child protection matter I had to do a two day training and have a designated mentor/supervisor for the first year.

      3. Person from the Resume*

        And it can be done. Last year the bar exam was cancelled in my state because of COVID. Because of COVID a year of law graduates don’t have to take a test that is normally required to become a licensed lawyer and is not necessarily easy to pass.

        There are alternate solutions to a biased test if whoever is in charge is willing to implement them.

    3. Andy*

      What would cause 30-40% advantage for adult white men? Against women or against minority?

      As I understand it, everyone doing the test is already self selected and the difference is huge. The women underperforming disparities I have seen were always way smaller, unless the test is physical.

      1. Emma2*

        It could be lots of things- for instance, there are standardised tests in certain jurisdictions for things like law and medicine that include in-person assessments involving people role playing patients or clients. I can pretty easily imagine a scoring system in that scenario that could be biased, particularly on the soft skills they are marking.
        As people have noted above with respect to the SAT, assumptions about common reference points can also produce bias in tests – if you, for instance, drafted a question that assumed I knew anything about American football beyond the fact that people throw the ball and the Super Bowl seems to be a big deal, I am unlikely to be able to understand or answer the question. In some areas you would probably assume that the average person has far more knowledge on that subject than I do.

        1. Andy*

          But SAT changed a lot since it was full of such questions and you learn cultural background during preparation.

          I would be very surprised if this kind of obvious topical thing would play 30-40% difference between genders.

          Like, what I am really asking is what explains such a huge difference. Questions about football don’t.

          1. pancakes*

            You seem to be guessing at much of this stuff rather than making an effort to seek out quality answers. How are you sure the SAT has in fact changed a lot, to the point that the cultural background of test-takers is a non-issue? How are you sure that kids from low-income families get the same prep classes and the same time to prepare kids from higher-income families get? How is your likelihood of being surprised be relevant to any of this?

      2. Qwerty*

        Probably a combination of several things. For example, penalizing wrong answers tends to result in white men scoring higher, because we breed confidence into them. Women are socialized to doubt themselves and tend to be more risk-averse, so they may not answer a question unless they are 90-100% sure it is right. Having a blank answer results in a higher score than a wrong answer, so a lot of test materials say not to answer unless you are sure. When I was taking the ACT/SAT, it was the women who were reading all of the test prep materials, so they were constantly being cautioned against picking the wrong answer. As result, a lot of them did much worse relatively speaking on the SAT than ACT.

        Other people have also brought up how the types of questions can point to socio-economic status. There’s probably also a good chance the topics are outdated and require special knowledge to understand.

        1. Andy*

          But that won’t explain 30-40% difference. That is the thing I am curios about – the sheer size of it.

          1. Trilby*

            I’m really curious too. I just can’t imagine how that much disparity could be due to a test . . .

    4. boo bot*

      Can you clarify what this means for the OP? I’m not sure if you’re saying that blowing the whistle won’t help, or just explaining the process (which I appreciate!)

      To me it seems like it’s still important to make the information public, because even if the test can’t be changed immediately, knowing how biased it is would allow organizations to take counter-measures, like giving the test score less weight and coming up with alternate means of checking people’s competence.

      Without knowing what the test is or how it’s used, it’s hard to know exactly what that would look like, but we’ve seen some colleges attach less importance to the SAT in recent years, for example.

      1. boo bot*

        I see you clarified as I was typing, thank you! This is really useful information; it may hopefully provide the LW with some relief from the idea that they have a responsibility to stay and try to change things from the inside.

      2. Brett*

        I wanted to give context to why it could be taking so long (assuming the org has taken intermediate actions on test development up to now, and is not just delaying starting test development), as well as note that the outcomes of whistleblowing will be something different than getting a test in the next 5 years, because you can’t get a new test in 5 years.

    5. Chinook*

      Having worked for a similair testing organization, I concur. It was eye opening to see what goes into a “good test” and how long it takes to develop. It also explained hy, as a high school student, never got to see my hard score on the provincial exams (which were based on the actual curriculum and developed by teachers who taught thr curriculum, so not like the SATS) because answering 100 questions did not mean all 100 questions were used in the final score. Some were there to see if they were good for use (a.k.a. fell in a Bell Curve when answered by thousands) and the odd one thrown out because somthing changed that year and the curve went wonky, meaning the question went bad.

      And then there was the year they cracked a cheating ring that had a distant learning student in another time zone (I think ghey got it a day or two early) gave questions to friends ahead of the test and the information was spread due to the internet – the curve flattened so much that the statistical analysis triggered an investigation and the exam scores were thrown out for everyone who took it (and a new exam had to be written from scratch – luckily it was math so some of the changes were easier than say a social studies one),

      But the OP should still blow the whistle. The group needs a fire lit that will cause them to spend money instead of time. There is enough knowledge out there on testing analytics and question bias that there is no excuse for this.

      And the OP needs to know that this will risk their career in that field. But, if they keep doing this, is this a group you will be proud to have on your resume 10 years down the road? Start job hunting while you whistle.

    6. The Bean*

      Right. The LW needs to be aware that while transparency and awareness that the test is biased would be a good thing, if she blows the whistle, it won’t magically fix the problem, which is the type of problem that is difficult to fix. If it were easy to create a completely fair test, we wouldn’t have important tests like the SAT, the bar exam, etc. that have disparate outcomes for certain groups.

      LW needs to weigh the likely outcomes and decide what level of personal blowback is she willing to take in order to create some transparency, with no guarantee is will be fixed any time soon.

    7. L.H. Puttgrass*

      That’s an excellent point about how long it would take to fix a biased test. But the problem here isn’t just that the test is biased, it’s that “[t]he details of the score disparities are a well-guarded and publicly denied secret.” Blowing the whistle won’t fix the test quickly, but it could instantly change the fact that the problems are secret. Maybe it’ll still take ten years to fix the test. But in the meantime, the licensing body can evaluate whether it’s fair to require the test, the process of fixing the test can get public input and oversight, and the problems with the test would contribute to the discussion of bias problems with testing in general. Fixing the test is important, of course, but it’s not the only goal.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Yes, exactly. It’s hard to fix a problem when people don’t acknowledge there IS a problem.

  18. Long-time listener, first-time caller*

    If the nonprofit has funders, try going to them first.

    1. TaxLady*

      I would bet this nonprofit is funded by the fees of people taking the test, or other membership fees.

  19. LKW*

    Agree with the others that you should definitely get a legal perspective/ protection. While the situation you describe is faulty, I don’t know that it’s patently illegal. And that may mean that you have no whistleblower protections. You just need to do the right thing and deal with the consequences. But I am not a lawyer and I have no idea how far whistleblower protections go.

    I think approaching this journalistically and potentially through organizations that aim to increase visibility/professional diversity is your best bet. I’m thinking Daily Beast, Mother Jones, even NY Times combined with BiPOC organizations who represent the profession (e.g. National Society for Black Engineers).

  20. benny*

    This feels like the sort of news beat that The Intercept covers, especially if there’s a sort of regulatory element if it’s occupational licensing. That would be the first place I would look if I was trying to answer “who do I leak to” in OP’s shoes.

  21. Esmeralda*

    You should plan to be found out and to lose your job. Yes, there are whistle-blower protections, but it’s cold comfort if it means you have to go to court and it takes several years.

    I do think you should find a way to blow the whistle, but plan first: job searching, finances, career path, etc.

    Many years ago I was in a visiting assistant professor at a prestigious university (= non tenure track, at will employee). At the time, no one was informing students about sexual harassment, so I talked about it during my classes, giving students the contact info for the OEO office and info in books and such (no internet at the time). Not too surprisingly, I heard from students. A lot of students. Including students in my department, taking a required class from a powerful tenured professor. Students who were reluctant to file a complaint, who were reluctant to even go to get information, because they were worried that this professor might give them a terrible grade, or harm their ability to go to grad school, and so on. (I judged this was a reasonable fear)

    Clearly I had to talk to my department chair. Like the students I worried about retaliation. I talked with my husband about how we would manage finances if I lost my job, what I could do to get another job in academia that summer or the next year, and how I might change careers if it torpedoed my academic career. Then I talked to the department chair. I did not lose my job.

    It’s one of the things I’m proudest of having done, because I lived my values and risked a lot for it.

    It’s also one of the hardest and scariest things I’ve done. And I did not do it until I was sure I could handle the possible consequences.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Thank you, it is. It would have been harder to do if I had not been married to someone with a stable job and insurance that I could go on. I had had a career in a non-academic field I could have returned to. So I had privileges that others do not. Which is terrible; yet another way that the haves continue to have, and the have nots get screwed.

        1. Lizzo*

          You had privilege, but you leveraged it for good, when you could have just as easily said, “Not my problem.”

          We need more people like you in this world.

  22. NewYork*

    I think many people are well aware of the differentials pass rates for many professional exams. I don’t think that anything you say will come as a surprise to most people. The tension is that people in charge think that tests are necessary to protect the public from unqualified professionals versus the difference in passing rate. I don’t want a nurse administering dangerous drugs to me if she is not qualified. Are you a member of the group that the test is for? Have you practiced in that area?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The issue is that they have data showing the problem and they’re keeping it secret while continuing to keep non-white people out of the profession.

        1. Chinook*

          But suspicions are very different from hard data. Only one holds up in court, which is why whistle blower protection is important.

          The data also shows the how, which is what you need to fix it. Knowing the world is unfair and complaining about it is useless if there is no path forward to fix it. Exams like this are important because, when done right, they ensure that those who do “the thing” are knowledgeable to X standard.

        2. BuildMeUp*

          Based on the anonymized details of the letter, there is absolutely no way you could know or even guess this.

        3. VC*

          OP says otherwise. I really don’t think you get to tell them they are wrong about what they know, random internet stranger.

        4. pancakes*

          You’re speaking very broadly, about whether or not the differing pass rates are a huge secret. No one said or suggested they are. The letter writer and their employer have specific, granular data about the differing pass rates: “The details of the score disparities are a well-guarded and publicly denied secret.”

    2. OP*

      Hey! OP here—You’re right that no one is likely to be surprised by the data. But we have frequently stated that the exact opposite of the data is true (that there’s no bias).

      I do not practice in the profession the test is for, but I am very familiar with the requirements and feel fairly confident in saying there are better ways to prove you’re qualified to do this profession.

    3. generic employee*

      Competence to learn to administer drugs is not correlated with genetics, ethnicity, gender, etc, so why should licensure be?

    4. Foof*

      In us medicine at least, the professional exams seem more like a self sustaining racket / monopoly than any relevance to clinical practice. There’s been a lot of controversy lately about the money, time, stress, and test creep (used to be once in a lifetime; ten every 10 years; then – push for continuing yearly credits/evals…) with no actual proof of any improvement in quality or outcomes

  23. LP*

    LW, you need to make the public aware of it. This can’t be kept to a whisper network. The minorities who take the test with you don’t have access to the whisper network and won’t know the test is biased.

    I understand this is a difficult decision to be a whistleblower. If you published an anonymous Medium post, there’s a potential no one will take you seriously because you are anonymous. If you are anonymous, it’s likely your employer will find out. Whether you speak out anonymously or you use your name, there’s potential people will say the nonprofit had good intentions or that you must be mistaken.

    Like Alison said, speak with a lawyer first. Your local bar might have a free legal service or might have a discount rate for a consultation. Reach out to news publications to see if they are interested. If the news can’t/won’t cover the story, then you might have to release a public statement on your own.

    I wish you luck with whichever route you decide. I don’t judge you for whichever route you do decide on.

  24. LQ*

    I think it’s important to consider how realistic the timeline they’ve laid out is. Really sit down and look at it, and if your boss and grandboss support it talk it through with them. I know a lot of people are going to balk (including you) at 10 years to implement. I have no idea (I’m balking pretty hard myself to be honest) what is and isn’t realistic. I know that these things are often more complex than they seem “Just ask better questions!” “Just stop being racist!” but the actual complexity of implementation is rarely that. It often requires a lot of work even if there is a full cultural support inside and out. Especially if there are other dependencies.

    I say this because I think that should inform your decision. If the realistic is if the whole organization pushed hard and wanted this it could be 3 years, and you think you could push and get to 5 when the current plan is 10? Honestly, my judgment would be to stay and shave off 5 years. (That’s amazing by the way if its doable, cutting a thing in half is ridiculously good!) If realistic would be 6 months and you think you can only get it to 5 years then I’d lean a lot closer to get a lawyer and blow that whistle.

    Part of this is what does the organization lose in momentum by stopping for 6-9 months to address this. Because honestly that’s what’s likely to happen. Unless the completed test is done and ready (and even then) you’re going to lose time by blowing it up (I’m not saying it’s not worth it, it’s just also worth knowing that it takes time). Which is why the 3-5 calculation would make sense to me but the 6mo to 5 year would not.

    It’s hard, really hard to be in a position where on one hand you can make the change you want to see happen, happen, and on the other hand it will take a lot longer vs maybe if you blow the whistle it will happen faster at your personal sacrifice.

    Either way I’d bundle up your whistle data (securely and not at work but very securely, if you do it and it’s not secure, you’re going to have another issue) and have it together in case something happens to the job. And then I’d always plan to update it at least 1/month.

    Good luck.

    1. LQ*

      OP I saw your note about the not a real plan so I’m updating my post here.

      If there isn’t a real plan I’d feel very differently. I have something I waver a lot on whistle blowing on. The issue is it’s not taken as seriously as I want and the timeline is very overly long. But there is an actual plan. There is a contract to do the things in the plan. Before that there was a plan to get a contract. It was and is painfully slow, but it was moving.

      If the “Plan” is not an actual project plan with high level outline and dates I’d be way more suspicious of the whole endeavor.

  25. katherine*

    I would blow the whistle if only because there’s a decent chance that writing a letter to a well-known website means you’ve already done it.

  26. Anonymouse*

    Also, this might be a quibbling point (and not specified by the OP, but alluded to in the comments). However, it is not “well documented” that white men do better on the SATs across the board. In fact, that assumption is false. People who identify as Asian wipe the floor with all other demographics on this test.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      The documentation is that children whose parents have higher incomes do better on standardized tests. For any given income level, the heirarchy is Asian, white, [everyone else]. For math tests, there’s the additional tier Asian, white men, white women, [everyone else].

      The cause is debated, but test prep, re-tests, and exposure to concepts are all on the table as possibilities.

      Many public schools have decided they don’t want to reward people only for having wealthier parents and are stepping away from standardized tests. Not that grades / access to advanced classes aren’t similarly biased… the solutions are hard, but maybe the US is finally moving in the right direction (universal pre-k; emotional intelligence curricula; more state support for tuition; an awareness of the school -> prison pipeline, and some attempts to disrupt it).

  27. No Name Today*

    They know.
    They don’t care.
    They will be there long after you and a hundred more like you are come and gone because people like you (and me) believe that they will be forced to change.
    They are (dictionary definition) literally making the rules.
    The SATs have been in this debate-limbo for 90 years and that’s will far more than one insider speaking out.
    But the facts are out there.
    Because people were brave enough to say, “No, 10 years of public school, a good night’s sleep and two sharp pencils are all a student needs to pass the test.”
    Good luck to you and thank you.

  28. Jay*

    How powerful and vindictive are the Board and Officers there?
    Will a simple relocation to another city/town, or even state put you largely out of their reach?
    Will the worst that they will do to you is potentially give you a not-so-great reference, or can/will they destroy your life and career?
    How good about protecting whistle blowers is your state? Especially whistle blowers who target entrenched racism?
    Will establishment politicians at the state, even national level, see this as an attack?
    If you can just move two towns over and get a job in an adjacent field and be home free, then, by all means, do so, and do it as soon as you have your new job.
    If it’s going to mean a lifetime of unemployment and harassment if you get caught, then you have a lot more to think about and prepare for. Get a lawyer. Contact organizations dealing with discrimination related to the people abused by your non-profit. Try to find an actual journalist who will be able to break the story while keeping your involvement confidential.
    You could try getting a new job in a distant state, waiting two years or so, then, when the people at your old job have largely forgotten you are alive, drop an anonymous tip to a journalist or activist group.

    1. Thought Leader*

      The problem with waiting too long is that a journalist might expect to have more updated information otherwise the company can say “oh we’ve been working hard on this for the past 2 years, your info is way out of date”.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I had a person in my life, it will be clear why I am being vague in a minute.

      Person saw a problem with BIG Company. Person started their own investigation. (yikes) Soon the death threats started. Person fled the state and remained low. Over ten years passed. A citizen’s action group approached Person, “We know you have documentation. We are going to court and we WILL win.”

      Person gave over the documentation. The group won big time.

      My wise friend used to talk about waiting for a different day. On a different day it can be much safer and you can have a much higher chance of success. You don’t HAVE to do this, but if you decide to go ahead the one thing to remember is to protect yourself because in protecting yourself you are ensuring the message will get to people who will effectively handle the problem.

      [To me this was also a safety in numbers story. But you can extract what is important to you, if anything.]

  29. irene adler*

    Where is a good hacker when you need them?
    I kid.
    Get a plan together based on attorney advice. More than one attorney if need be.
    Good luck to you and thank you for sticking up for what’s right.

    Might also make sure the evidence isn’t such that it will ‘disappear’ or be changed to implicate you in some fashion.
    (sure, that sounds paranoid, but things like that happen.)

  30. Funny Cide*

    Lots of other commenters have given great advice, so I just wanted to add just a general note of support for the OP. In some ways this is absolutely an “easy” decision to do the right thing, but that doesn’t mean it will actually be easy. Thank you for being more willing to be an agent for change than so many others have been. Your piece in bringing this information to light will change the world for the better down the line.

  31. Can Man*

    Sounds like you’ve got a quandry almost as murky as Edward Snowden did. Good luck navigating it with a maximum of productive reforms and a minimum of blowback.

  32. Emily*

    The only way to make a test of reading comprehension, logic, math, etc., or of skills which rely on that, which doesn’t have significant disparate impact racially is:

    1) Make the scores essentially random, so that they’re not actually testing the things we want to test.
    2) Have an extremely high pass rate. Like, pass 90% of the people who take it, and don’t distinguish between scores within that range. You can’t have much disparate impact there because you’re basically not having much impact at all.
    3) Have some very strange selection issues among the people who take it. For instance, a language test where many of the people taking it are native speakers, where you’re basically pre-selecting different groups in different ways.

    This isn’t just the SAT. This is literally every test. It’s the bar exam. It’s the LSAT. Congress mandates that everyone enlisting in the military have a certain score on a test that has significant disparate impact racially. Tests to become teachers have disparate impact. With tests to become police and firemen, there would be, but because the government has subjected those to a higher degree of oversight, they usually go with option #2 – only screen out the very bottom. Of course your test has disparities, and of course they haven’t come up with a solution.

    The biggest solution being used now is to drop the tests entirely. Which may be a good idea! But let go of the idea that the reason they haven’t solved this ‘how do we come up with a useful test without disparate impact problem’ is because of lack of trying, and if there were just public pressure, they would. The SAT is on the path to obsolescence – if they could reformat it to fix their scoring issues, they absolutely would, and they have a lot more money and resources than your organization does.

    1. Testing whistleblower anon*

      This is a more detailed version of the point I was trying to make. If OP doesn’t have a good rebuttal to this point, if they can’t prove that their organization is performing even worse on this front than other testing organizations, blowing the whistle may not do much to change things.

      1. katherine*

        On the other hand, they may be able to show that their organization is not making much of an attempt. Based on the OP’s characterization (“internally blaming the problem on things like poor education at historically black colleges and universities even though we have the data to disprove this ridiculous theory”) I suspect there are probably some unflattering emails.

    2. Foof*

      I would be happy to see an end to high stakes testing. Professional licensing tests should test if you know the core material; in my mind they should have a know body of required knowledge to cover and tests should be repeatable for free until folks get a score of nearly 100%.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Amen. I took a financial test and it asked who invented the internet and other similar questions. It felt so contrived to me.

  33. Testing whistleblower anon*

    Here’s the first question that comes to mind for me, and I think it’d be good to answer it firmly for yourself and come up with strong evidence from the information you have access to for that answer, before you go blowing the whistle. Maybe you already have this evidence and just didn’t include it for privacy’s sake—that’s fine. But it will absolutely come up in any public conversation about this issue sparked by your whistleblowing.

    **Is the disparity between different groups the direct result of something your organization is doing, as opposed to being reflective of a larger disparity in the education system?**

    The specific blaming of historically Black colleges is stupid. However, we do know that the education system in the US is subject to the same inequalities as other systems. I worry that OP is going to blow the whistle and the response from the public is going to be “so what? How is this (nonprofit)’s problem?”

    To be clear—I am not saying the organization is doing the right thing here, or that they shouldn’t be doing more to fix the disparity. But I think OP needs to think about what information they, specifically, are privy to that proves the disparity is this organization’s fault; or that it knows the steps that need to be taken and isn’t working towards them at all; or that there is malicious intent on the part of the board. Someone earlier in the comments mentioned it taking them 7 years to develop a similar test, so it may not be enough to say that their only plan to fix this would take many years.

    Alternately, the case OP could make as a whistleblower is that the test is so broken it shouldn’t be used to gatekeep entry to this profession. If that’s what they want to say they should be clear on that with themselves too.

    I am not saying don’t say anything. I am worried that without the context and moral framework OP has, that the impact of sharing this information may not be as big as they’d hoped, and so they should be very clear with themselves about what they’re trying to accomplish and what message they are trying to convey.

    1. squirrel chaser*

      Yes, I’m wondering if the OP is just commenting on White vs Black test differences. As someone mentioned before, do Asians and women also do far worse than white men on this test? For example for SATs, Asians and women are pretty close or above Whites and men.
      Black underachievement is likely due to the education / income gap, that I believe would be better corrected by outreach and additional classes targeted at minorities, rather than changing the test. But if White men are outperforming all other demographics, it feels like there is intentional or unintentional racist bias baked into the system.

    2. Testing whistleblower anon*

      I will add—if you have the comments about historically Black colleges in writing, I think that counts as evidence of malicious intent on the part of the board. If you don’t? I think you’re gonna need to keep digging.

    3. Spearmint*

      This. Everyone is assuming the test is biased but it may instead be accurately measuring the results of systemic racism in education.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        My read is that white men score 30-40% higher than other candidates, as supported by internal data, but the organisation’s official public position is that there is no such pattern. So the whistleblowing would be more about the lies and cover-up than the testing procedure itself.

    4. M*

      Given the OP is describing having clear data indicating that the gap holds true when controlling for educational background, this seems very unrelated to the information OP is actually giving us.

  34. Ladyb*

    One other thing to consider is the potential impact on LW if they don’t blow the whistle and the facts come out via some other channels. They’d be seen as actively (as it sounds like they’re sufficiently senior to have this info and act on it) part of the problem. What could that do to their long term prospects?
    If my prospects are in jeopardy either way, I’d go (and have gone) with the option that allows me to sleep at night

    1. katherine*

      Seconding this, and would add that journalists read this website too and may use this as a jumping off point to investigate. This isn’t to scold the LW – quite the opposite! – more that I feel like they already have subconsciously made their decision by sending this letter and “trial balloon” going public.

    2. LTL*

      If blowing the whistle is too much of a risk for the OP, this is a very good reason for them to start job hunting.

  35. Foof*

    Since you say they are overtly lying about something you know is real and this could well be impacting a lot of people’s livelihoods, not to mention the broader impact of ongoing systemic discrimination; yes op. You need to blow the whistle. I hope anyone here can give advice on the best way to do that; ie, going to press first vs going to the authorities that utilize the test, or both, or some other comission, i’m not sure.

  36. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP – major newspapers offer ways for you to securely and anonymously transfer whistleblower information to them. The Washington Post has a DropBox account, for example. It’s not a complete guarantee of safety – since you say that the organization is small – but it offers you some amount of protection if you choose to go forward.

  37. Anon this time*

    I appreciate this OP so much. I work in education, and a major part of my work revolves around recruiting and supporting diverse students pursuing a licensed profession with a major DEI problem. (Unfortunately, I think it’s very possible OP might be talking about the profession I serve, and if so, there’s not really an innocent possible explanation for white males outperforming other groups so dramatically over such a long period.) I would be piiiiiissssssed if I found out that the licensing process was so strongly biased. They’re actively undermining my work and work like it, which is extremely important to the goals of the profession. There’s a huge possibility that your organization is a key cog in the systemic wheel that’s impacting inequality the entire profession. By failing to address this, they not only hurt the profession as a whole, they stifle other people who are trying to fix it.

    If just the ethical ickiness of it aren’t enough (sounds like you may have already decided it is), think of it this way: diversity and equity is a hot topic right now, and probably will be for a while. Someone is going to start digging-people in roles like mine already are. The storm is coming. If your employer is found out without you, you’re going down with the ship. Do you really want to be one of only 10 people who could have said something, but didn’t? If you blow the whistle, it’s a huge risk, and I can’t ignore that. They have put you in a terrible position where they’ve forced you to decide which side of a scandal you want to be on. But I hope you’ll use the great advice in this thread to do it as safely as possible.

  38. LTL*

    Blowing the whistle would be ethical here, but I don’t think the OP is obligated to do so.

    (Note: I’m not white so please don’t come at me about how white people need to sacrifice their comforts. While I do believe that people in privilege should stand up for those who can’t speak up as easily- not sure if this is the case here since we don’t know OP’s race- I don’t believe that any individual is required to blow up their entire life for a cause. OP states that they really need the health insurance, I am taking their word for it.)

    1. No Name Today*

      Your statement is correct and fair. I just want to say that because what you are saying is something that OP should keep in mind as well.
      It’s easy to say that the moral choice is the only choice. But that is the very point, isn’t it? It is a choice. A choice that OP must make alone, that will affect OP perhaps the most, but also those in his/her family, friends, work.
      A choice that OP cannot take lightly, or think saying “I had no choice,” will ease the consequences.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I agree, actually. I’ve heard so many whistleblower stories in which the person could never get another job again–I guess that’s a thing in my region since I live nearby state government. I met a whistleblower (who was in a class I was in) and she literally described it as “I ruined my life by whistleblowing.” If you need health insurance, whistleblowing is literally putting your life at risk. Honestly, I would not do it if I was the OP. You have to take care of yourself and nobody else is going to do that for you. If you have no backup in this world like a spouse with an income and health insurance so your life doesn’t depend on this job, I wouldn’t do it. Or at least don’t do it until you are out of the situation.

    3. Foof*

      I agree not stopping a bad thing is not the same as doing a bad thing. But i will say i try to live resolved that i will be ready to take a blow if needed to do the right thing. If op is wondering if they should i’ll always say yes, acknowledging that it may be ultimately too risky and i won’t fault the op for that

    4. mf*

      I agree. If the OP chooses to come forward, I think that’s super amazing and brave. But I would not fault the OP for prioritizing his/her own health.

      I do think the OP should consider finding a new job and coming forward as soon as they do. If someone else blows the whistle, OP may be seen as part of the problem, considering that they had this knowledge and didn’t report it.

  39. Troutwaxer*

    If it takes 10 years to create a set of questions that non-racist, would it be possible for the organization to pivot to becoming an organization which uses a Graded Performance Portfolio to instead? That might be a much faster way to make your organization less racist. Can you suggest that?

    If that’s not possible, I agree that you should blow the whistle, and I agree with everyone who’s telling you to consult a lawyer. Also, I would do some research into how “off the record” reporting works. And definitely get a new job!

  40. I'm A Little Teapot*

    Throughout history, there are examples of individuals who have taken a stand. In big ways, small ways, knowingly, unknowingly. Their actions have helped make the world a better place. Many of them have suffered consequences because they took a stand. We tend to call them heros, and they tend to have their name in the history books. But being a hero isn’t easy. Good luck.

  41. Beentheredonethat*

    If you’re going to contact a journalist I highly recommend going to Propublica. They have lots of really anonymous ways you can tip them off. I have personal experience with a whistle blowing case and the reporter who covered it did an excellent job. She never even knew my name and didn’t print anything I told her but took my advice as to where to look and what questions to ask.

  42. Roscoe*

    Without knowing your specific situation, I really think you need to figure out YOUR best situation first, then take it from there. No one is going to look out for you except you. So while I think its noble that you want to do the right thing, you definitely want to make sure you aren’t a casualty of this thing as well. I’d say try to find a new job first, then do the whistleblowing on the way out. Its like on a plane, secure your own life vest before helping others with theirs.

  43. OP*

    Hey all! OP here. Working on reading the comments but wanted to chime in here.

    Alison, thank you so much for answering this question. Your response confirms what I’ve been feeling, and I’m going to work on both getting out myself and getting this information out there.

    I do want to clarify for the commentariat that when I mentioned the organization having a “plan” … there’s no real plan. The plan is to wait and shift the blame around. Talking about the data tends to send me into a rage funk for a week or so.

    1. OP*

      I should add, it’s a bit of a crazy day for me, so I probably won’t be able to respond much. But I appreciate everyone’s input and will be checking in!

      1. Carlie*

        OP: whistleblowing :: passenger: plane safety prep. Be sure to put on your own oxygen mask first, OP. The whole system is biased, and any investigation and changes will take years. You can take awhile preparing yourself and securing your own safety before taking action.

    2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      I’ve experienced this before. The plan is to develop a plan… someday.

    3. JustKnope*

      Chiming in to say that I’m rooting for you, OP, and know this is NOT easy. I recommend you really sit down and get your financial plans in order, update resume, know who your network is, etc. before reaching out to a lawyer. Get your own ducks very organized and make sure you’re taking care of yourself; then talk to a lawyer to figure out how to do it the right way. And lastly, good for you for caring deeply and working to make this better.

    4. Selena*

      This is undoubtedly a very stressfull time for you. I hope you’ll manage to make a decision you’ll be happy about in the long term.
      It’s easy for all of us to tell a stranger to Go Make A Stand, but it’s your career that’s on the line.

      Speaking of data: does ’30 to 40% difference’ mean that they have a 30-40% less chance of passing the test?
      I understand if you don’t want to get into specifics, but i wonder if this is more like a ‘general knowledge’ type of test or if it’s aimed at specific job-skills?

  44. Undine*

    You can certainly find a job within the next 10 years, before you blow the whistle. One thing to think about, it sounds like you do have some specialized knowledge that is a factor in your job. Do you have transferable skills that would let you pivot out of this area if necessary? Is there another career you might want? Even if it’s a huge big deal in one area, if you start a new career, your new employers/coworkers may never hear of it. I know that’s a big price to pay, but knowing it’s possible if necessary may help you move forward.

  45. Abogado Avocado*

    It sounds as if the problem with this exam lies with its norms. Ordinarily, exams like the one your organization administers (or provides) should be tested on a representative sample of the population that will take the exam. This sort of testing on a normative sample — a process often called norming — is intended to identify racial disparities and other problems and is intended to allow the exam creators to fix those problems so that the test itself is not creating disparities among otherwise equally situated test takers.

    Certainly, you can take your concerns to a journalist, but you are likely to have greater impact by taking your concern to those in exam’s subject matter field who deal with test metrics. These scientists — and they’re almost always faculty members in universities if they’re not employed by a testing organization — are the ones who do the math that is used when norming an exam. I promise you that if you provide your information to one of these scientists, it will end up in a scholarly paper and do more to compel your board to reform this exam than anything else you do.

  46. QED*

    I basically agree with the other commenters that you should consult an attorney and blow the whistle, but I do think there are some considerations for how you frame it or look to do it. Are there people, groups, or organizations that seem to know or suspect about this racial disparity for a long time whose voices could be amplified? That may take some of the pressure off this just being you against your organization. Also, think about how necessary this test actually is for safely and ethically practicing this profession–could the test be eliminated altogether or is the right reform really just having the test redone? I think this also dictates who you reach out to and how, since if your current organization needs to still be involved long-term, that presents a very different scenario than if the test could be scrapped. That will also dictate how the organization responds. (See the National Conference of Bar Examiners and the controversy over the bar exam).

  47. El l*

    They are publicly and knowingly lying, like Big Tobacco circa 1990. And they will never fix this on their own – if they admit it’s a bad test, they lose their credibility and therefore reason for being.

    Be prepared for there being more than just be job loss with this – there’ll be a rebranding and possible closure. So if at any point you wonder, just remember that you might have to go through this when someone else outed them!

    Do everything via email from this point on.

  48. staceyizme*

    I wonder, if it will take an inordinately long period of time to develop and implement a new instrument that accounts for the disparities that you cite, would there be any possibility of “re-norming” the test? If it’s a pass-fail instrument, that might be easier to do than if it’s “we give the job to the best candidate as defined by who scores best on this instrument”. Or, if “re-norming” isn’t possible, can ancillary instruments be used that don’t discriminate so heavily? I don’t envy you your dilemma, OP!

    1. Selena*

      If you mean ‘give extra points to any afro-american test-taker’ than that will almost certainly only move the problem to f.i. low-class white people.

      1. Self Employed*

        Nice strawman.

        That’s not what “re-norming” means. That would mean throwing out any test questions that are consistently tripping up marginalized test-takers compared to white men at the higher end of the socioeconomic classes. I don’t know enough about this particular test to know what might cause that, but the equivalent of the SAT test question about regattas. A question that neutrally assesses job-related knowledge should be equally difficult for everyone.

  49. Emily*

    Another thought about how to get the data out there would be to get it in the hands of a public official and then have someone else FOIA it. If this is part of licensure, that’s information the government could have an interest in. This still could be somewhat delicate to stage-manage – ideally, you find someone who can reach out to your organization (but not you) asking about it, and then obviously your organization has to give it to them. But they might be more willing to do that then to make it public-public. From there, you can have someone (again, ideally someone who is not you) FOIA it from the agency. That they’ll know exactly what to ask for (because your public agency friend told them) may point to you in some sense – I’d still suggest having found a new job by then — but it’s less blatant, and you wouldn’t be breaking anything.

  50. Todd*

    So if white Men do better, it must be the test? And what if the questions are all technical aspects of the job? I can understand if the tests are somehow biased, so yes please evaluate the questions to make sure they are all legitimate questions you should know the answer to for profession xx.

    1. Bess*

      No…it’s more about particular groups creating tests with only their own frame of reference in mind. A lot of it can be very subtle and invisible to in-group members. Many standardized tests are created with a “default” person in mind–the default assumed by the creators, and in America, that person is still most often the white, upper middle class to wealthy male, because white wealthy men still run quite a lot of America.

      So white men are often unknowingly creating and participating in this system tailored to their experience, so are more likely to succeed at that system.

      If tests like the one OP is describing were designed by more diverse (by gender/sex, race, ethnic background, and socioeconomic background) groups and were also tested properly with a representative population sample, a lot of this would be mitigated and everyone would have a fairer shot. 30-40% overperformance by white men is…pretty extreme…probably for any field.

  51. Hiring Mgr*

    Don’t know much about this type of thing, but given how many certifications, licenses and so on require tests like these, it seems like this may have come up in similar organizations over the past several years?

    Are there examples of how other test developers have handled the issue?

  52. Radiolarion*

    By blowing the whistle on your company, are you hoping the test will be tweaked in a relatively minor way, like getting rid of questions that refer to things like regattas? Or are you hoping the test will get eliminated completely? If it’s the latter, you might want to think about how this profession will start choosing candidates in the absence of the test. Although many people are advocating for scrapping the SAT because rich white people get higher scores on it, and because the test taking fee is high, scrapping the SAT might actually exacerbate inequality if it means college admissions officers will start putting higher weight on whether students have fancy extracurricular activities and internships that are even harder for those with less privilege to access. If this is a selective profession, gatekeepers are going to have to use some kind of exclusive criteria, most of which will be easier to achieve for people who have more resources. Paying for an SAT prep course and studying hard in it might be a relatively high-effort, difficult thing for a rich person to do compared to having their dad land them an internship at their company. Conversely, studying hard from free SAT prep books might be relatively more accessible for someone who just plain lacks the connections to land that internship.

    1. pancakes*

      It needn’t be mandatory that admissions officers focus on extracurricular activities or internships instead. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, my undergrad school dropped the SAT as a requirement in the early 2000s, and was focusing heavily on writing samples before that. Writing samples aren’t without problems, but are probably not quite as restrictive as fancy or extensive extracurriculars. Very, very few places take on high school age interns, even ones with wildly rich parents.

      1. Not a Martyr*

        Disclaimer first: I hate putting myself out there on any social media. I am a female of color who scored really well on the SAT in my day, over 20 years ago. But, I landed in classes as early as 6th grade that taught SAT prep, so I was trained how to test well. My takeaway is that if you are lucky enough, as I was, to be in a public school that teaches you how to take the tests, you can do well regardless of socioeconomic or cultural background. I’ve struggled my whole life with whether I should identify as white or black. I still struggle with that. At times, I’ve been discriminated against and emotionally and physically abused for being “black”. I think OP should call this out in whatever way is safe for them. Maybe future generations won’t struggle for decades trying to figure out how to define themselves.

  53. Carmela San Diego*

    Based on this letter and some of OPs follow up comments, I’m pretty sure I used to work at this organization. OP good for you for wanting to call out this BS, but you are right they will try to wait it out and not make any changes. I left about 5 years ago and found an organization that is more inclusive and forward facing. Good luck!

  54. portia*

    I have kind of a different perspective on this.

    I’m an attorney. White men do disproportionately well on the bar in my state; and I in fact failed it the first time I took it. There have been many times during my career that I’ve been the only female attorney in the room.

    I would really, really urge caution here, and if you were my friend/client/family member I would tell you to absolutely not blow the whistle.

    The reason that whistle blowers like Reality Winner, Ronan Farrow, Edward Snowden, etc. are so well known is because successfully blowing the whistle is really, really rare. Most entities have the resources to completely shut down whistleblowing. If you collaborated with a journalist, for instance, what’s to stop your employer from seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the story from getting out? Even if your employer isn’t successful in permanently quashing the story, they’ve caused the publication and the journalist time, money, manpower and pretty strongly dis-incentivized the publication from printing more unflattering stories.

    Assuming the story does make it to press, effecting change and getting people to care is, unfortunately, another battle, and one where again, the odds are very much not in your favor. Your story may very well end up on the back page of a newspaper, read by three people (and, in fact, I might add that several whistleblower situations often start like that–whistleblower 1 breaks a piece of a huge story, and everyone either ignores it or shrugs and moves on with their day. Sometimes for weeks, sometimes for decades). Are you prepared for that possibility? beyond just being ignored, what if your employer manages to spin this as a positive? Knowing what you know, could you handle that?

    Additionally, the fall out from blowing the whistle can be incredibly difficult to predict. You might be able to successfully transition to a different position with little professional consequences; could your boss? How about your colleagues? If they got fired due to your whistleblowing, what would happen to them? Would you be ok with that? FWIW, I haven’t advised OP’s employer, but if a subordinate was sharing employer confidential info I would 10000000000000% tell the employer that the whistleblower’s manager needs to go. Aside from the fact that your manager should know what happens with the confidential data he entrusts to you (or tells other people to entrust to you) how could your employer ever be sure that the manager wasn’t in on it too?

    I strongly agree that the bar and standardized testing in general needs a total overhaul. And if you can effect change in five years, I would say that we need people like you where they are. The majority of the people who will be carrying out the overhauling, after all, are probably already there.

    At the end of the day, no one on this site is going to pay your health insurance. Do what is right for you.

    1. pancakes*

      I don’t disagree with much of this, but I don’t think individual whistle-blowers being well-known or not is a good metric for assessing whether what they did was effective, nor whether it was worth the risks for them. Making a difference within ones own industry does not invariably result in becoming well-known to the rest of the country or the world.

      As to what’s to stop an employer from obtaining a TRO: A judge, for starters!

      A quality publication (and a great many middling ones) would not stop publishing stories unflattering to an industry forevermore due to one inquiry not making as big a splash as intended.

      I don’t agree, either, that the letter writer should feel responsible if coworkers lose their jobs as a result of whistle-blowing. If your sense of fairness revolves around that, no one should ever attempt to change the status quo in any way at all.

      If the letter writer’s employer should at some point decide the letter writer’s manager should be fired for not having anticipated the whistle-blowing, or presumes they were in on it without having carried out any sort of internal investigation, that’s an odd choice they’re free to make, or not make. I’m not sure why you feel certain you’d advise them to do so, knowing that you don’t know all the relevant facts of the matter.

  55. MewMew*

    One avenue that I haven’t seen mentioned in the comments so far is a referral to the IRS’ Tax Exemption division. My understanding is that the IRS doesn’t really like it when groups take advantage of tax exemption to carry out discriminatory practices. There’s no guarantee it will be investigated, but it’s an option.

    As others have suggested, please talk to an employment attorney (ideally one with whistleblower protection experience!) to protect yourself before taking action. There’s a simple form to do an IRS referral, and it can be done anonymously — but I’d still strongly recommend talking to a lawyer because so few people have the info, it might still be traceable back to you.

  56. Anongineer*

    Hi OP! It’s late so I’m not sure if you’ll read this.

    I work in a field that has a test similar to one you’re describing (engineering/Profession Engineer License). If you’re able to safely do it, I would recommend whistleblowing. As others have said, check with a lawyer to protect yourself and learn your options. If you’re not able to do this for whatever reason (and you may have very valid reasons!) please keep pushing for a solution in whatever way you’re able.

    My take: it’s a huge issue in my field where you can’t move up without this license, and the majority of engineers have tended to be white men. There are less than a million PEs in the US, and just 14% of them are women. In addition to this, there have been talks of including a Master’s mandate to this process which would already make this difficult milestone much harder to reach, due to the time and money it would take. If an accusation like this were to come out for our test, it would absolutely disrupt the industry and cause some damage. But I’d rather have a test (and industry) be equitable than see the status quo remain the same.

  57. GrayLady*

    I’m afraid I might be responding too late for anyone to read this, but I’ll try…
    I worked as an industrial psychologist in a large organization (very large) organization, and we weren’t able to find a non-trivial way to measure almost any competence that didn’t have Asians outscoring whites, outscoring blacks. We had started trying in the 1960s. It’s definitely a hard problem.

    The gender ratio is a little more complicated – there neither gender had an absolute advantage, although the long-tails were different and did result in some distortions for high (and low) end testing.

    This wasn’t in the USA either, so the usual suggestions of systemic racism based on the legacy of slavery didn’t seem applicable either.

  58. Jomola*

    I am a little confused on how a test can be worded such that only a white male can score higher? If the subject matter is such that it refers to an educational program mostly taken by white males, then isn’t the root of the problem the need to attract more minorities to the program? I hear this kind of argument often, but I feel the answer given to the dilemma doesn’t usually address the real issue so letters like this make me suspicious that OP is making an assumption but not identifying the real root of the problem.

  59. ForgetMeNot*

    Not a journalist, but I work in the media, and want to reiterate what others have said. Reputable journalism outlets that have the reach to make a real difference would be delighted to hear from you. This is the kind of information the public has a right to know – and it’s the entire reason investigative journalists do what they do.
    If confidentiality is a significant concern, I’d recommend NPR’s step-by-step on submitting a confidential news tip here:

    Whatever you choose, you are right to be concerned. Thank you for caring! Please don’t forget to look out for yourself while you are looking out for others.

  60. Karak*

    OP, if you do this, and you get burned, I will personally donate to a Patreon or Gofundme to support you. I’m so sorry you’re in this position.

  61. Longtime journalist here!*

    I’ve been a journalist for a dozen years. What matters most here is trust. If you trust the journalist, they know your identity – they just don’t share it with anyone else.

    I’m also seeing a HUGE misconception that you can just email a journalist a file and they can post a story. It doesn’t work like that.

    I would email a journalist (or use Signal etc) and say you want to talk on the phone. Then have a conversation where you ask to be off the record and share a tidbit or two. You don’t need to share everything out of the gate. Then see what they do. In order to break a story like this, the reporter will need to verify, verify, verify. It’s a lot of work and it’s unlikely they will break a story with only a single source. So s/he will need your help around who to ask, how to confirm the story. So sharing documents and your own personal experience is only a start.

    Another thought: What also would be good is if there is anyone else who recently left the company who might also leak info. Again – because journalists are unlikely to do a bombshell story with a single source. And that gives you extra cover and plausible deniability.

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