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Should The High School Military Test Be A Mandatory Test?

Jun 5, 2008
High school students interested in serving in our armed forces must take an entrance examination called the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). The ASVAB is used to not only assess a recruit's aptitude for military service, but also help identify their Military Operational Specialty -- service-speak for job -- if they choose to serve. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, over 722,000 high school students took the ASVAB during the past school year

The ASVAB is also used as a mandatory test for high school sophomores and juniors at hundreds of schools in 34 states. The schools that make the ASVAB mandatory share the results with the military and assist their students in their career development, regardless of whether they decide to enlist.

There are problems with this practice.

First, the mandatory test gives the military the opportunity to circumvent the opt-out provisions under No Child Left Behind; a student may be forced to take the test even though he's asked to opt out of communications with the branches of the armed forces,

Second, school administrators have the say as to whether the ASVAB results can be shared with military recruiters, assuming they require the test for their own purposes. In effect, a school administrator is placed in the role of circumventing the wishes of students who are not interested in military service, as well as their parents. A high school principal or superintendent should not be put in this position; an exceptionally vocal group of parents could get him fired.

Third, the ASVAB is given to students who have not turned 18. The military should not be contacting students who are more than a year from graduating high school. Given the passage of a symbolic act such as No Child Left Behind, the military should not be recruiting high school drop outs, or asking students disinterested in school to consider dropping out. Reporting to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on January 31, General Thomas Bostick, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, stated that the percentage of high school graduates among military recruits had fallen to a low of 79 percent.

I don't believe we need a Congressional hearing to resolve these problems; there is nothing to be gained from such theatre. Instead, we need some solutions that are fair and easy to implement. I personally do not object to the test itself, or the idea of making it mandatory at wartime, but there should be an opt-out check box right on the front page of the exam booklet. If a student checks no, then no should be recorded in the collective database of test takers. It's not too difficult to add one checkbox to a three hour standardized exam.

Second, if a school in need of improvement under No Child Left Behind uses the ASVAB as a career assessment tool, it should allowed to use it as a school assessment. Improvement in performance on the ASVAB should carry bonus credits towards a school's efforts to take itself out of Need of Improvement status.

Thirdly, and I stated this in a prior column, the military should not call high school students until they have reached their 18th birthday or three months before their graduation, whichever is earlier. If we are to leave no child left behind in the classroom and make all children proficient, we should not try to leave them behind on a battlefield before they have had a chance to earn their high school diploma.
About the Author
Contact Stuart Nachbar at Educated Quest, a blog on education politics, policy and technology or read about his first book, The Sex Ed Chronicle, a novel on education and politics in 1980 New Jersey, at Sex Ed Chronicles.
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