Paula Hoffman-Villanueva -
We hear a great deal about the over-use of tests in schools, but one test that we all need to pay more attention to is the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). The ASVAB is purported to be a series of vocational interest and academic skills tests, and the emblem of the sponsoring Department of Defense is intentionally downplayed on the testing materials. Since 1968, millions of high school students have taken the ASVAB and, as a result, have unwittingly given the military access to their personal information. This information is then turned over to recruiters, raising serious legal concerns regarding privacy rights and protections.
Recently the Army Command and General Staff College published and approved for distribution a 2012 graduate thesis by Major Gregory V. Humble, who examines the question: "Why do schools choose to not release ASVAB scores to military recruiters?" Such studies are sometimes circulated to inform military policy and practices, and this one contains some valuable information, including statistics, that the public does not usually have easy access to.
In Humble’s thesis, we find some revealing observations. Although the military clearly tries to downplay the extensive use of the ASVAB as a recruiting tool, Major Humble writes, "The military benefits, especially when scores are released to recruiters because the scores help determine who is eligible for military service." Also: "The ASVAB is marketed as a career exploration program."
We are encouraged to find that Project YANO, along with other like-minded organizations that are mentioned in the thesis, have clearly made important progress in the struggle to keep recruiters away from our nation's youth. The numbers reported in Major Humble's thesis indicate that actions taken by peace activists, conscientious school districts and a few state governments are having an effect. In 1990, 1,006,957 students took the test, while in 2011 the number was 670,561. Although the total number of high school students has increased, the percentage of high school students participating in the ASVAB declined from 10.8 percent in 1990 to 5.7 percent in 2011.
Issues regarding the unethical use of the ASVAB center around test procedures. First, school officials sometimes present it as a mandatory rather than voluntary exam. Second, and most crucial to the process, is the question of whether or not the school will decide to allow all personal student information to be released to the military. The decision to not release the information is known as "Option 8." Much of Major Humble's thesis centers around this question. In 2004, 3.8 percent of ASVAB tests were scored with the selection of Option 8. The percentage of schools and districts choosing Option 8 has risen every year for the past seven years to a high of 13.91 percent in 2011. There are also legal questions with regard to the rules of No Child Left Behind, which gives parents the right to withhold their children's information from recruiters. If a parent "opts out" under NCLB, why can the military then gain access to personal information through ASVAB testing?
Major Humble refers to organizations such as Project YANO as "advocacy organizations." Along with Project YANO and Education Not Arms Coalition policy victories in San Diego, he mentions work by the ACLU, NAACP, National Lawyers Guild, American Friends Service Committee, and others who have been successful in supporting policies and laws that restrict the ASVAB. Maryland was the first state to enact a law that says its high schools can no longer allow ASVAB scores to be automatically released to recruiters. The California legislature passed a similar law in 2007, which was then vetoed by Governor Swarzenegger. The Hawaii Department of Education requires all Hawaii public schools to select Option 8. New York City Department of Education and San Diego City Schools now have Option 8 protections. Oakland, California prohibits the ASVAB entirely. The Edmonds, Washington School District policy states that the ASVAB test is voluntary and that information released generally cannot be used for recruiting purposes. In the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina, scores cannot be released to military recruiters if the test is taken during school hours.
It appears that "advocacy organizations" have also influenced Major Humble's perspective. He expresses concerns about the way the Department of Defense operates the testing program. His summary recommendations include the following:
• In order to earn the trust and respect of students, educators, school officials, and the American public, the military must ensure that the issue of student privacy is respected and addressed.
• It would be wise to limit the number of phone calls that recruiters can make as a result of the release of ASVAB scores.
• Another ground rule that would help address the concerns of parents is to develop a policy that prohibits a recruiter from conducting an initial appointment with a high school prospect, unless the parent is present for that meeting or the recruiter has spoken to the parents and received their permission to meet with their son or daughter.
• Literature and information should be straightforward that there is a DOD connection. . . . The military will earn trust by being transparent and informing parents, students, and educators what will be done with the test scores.
When struggling high school students with poor academic test scores think that joining the military will improve their lives, they are not told by recruiters that the ASVAB test will also determine the job that they will be assigned to in the military. Young people are enticed by promises of good careers and free education. For most, this is not the reality. This deception often begins with the ASVAB. We must be dedicated to our work to limit this test's power or remove it entirely from schools.