updated 10/26/2005 7:43:50 PM ET 2005-10-26T23:43:50

In an attempt to hire younger firefighters and satisfy a judge’s ruling that its old eligibility list discriminated against black applicants, Chicago will hold its first fire department entrance exam in more than a decade.

Officials said Wednesday that the pass/fail written exam, scheduled for spring 2006, will increase the chances of a diverse academy class and freshen a candidate pool that has an average age of nearly 38.

Despite the new test, the city might face the same legal challenges over race that plagued its last exam in 1995, said fire department Commissioner Cortez Trotter.

“I think that what we’re trying to do here is to learn from some of the things that we’ve been told by people who are in the testing business and by the courts. This doesn’t guarantee that the courts won’t have anything to say,” Trotter said.

Following the new exam, all passing applicants will be processed randomly for additional tests like physical agility and background checks.

A federal judge ruled in March that the 1995 exam disproportionately excluded blacks from a pool of candidates most likely to be hired.

The lawsuit filed by the African American Firefighters League centered on the city’s decision to establish a cutoff score of 89 and start randomly hiring from 1,782 “well-qualified” candidates, a group that had five times more whites than blacks. The exam’s creator had recommended the city set the cutoff at 65 to decrease the odds against black applicants.

In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall said the city knew the cutoff point was meaningless and would disproportionately exclude black applicants.

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