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US pressed on military exam for high school students

Is US military recruitment misusing information on minors?
Is US military recruitment misusing information on minors?
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Questions are being asked about a key military recruitment tool used in the nation's high schools.

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam is a series of tests designed to assess a child's suitability for various careers in the armed forces. However, a recent report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child raised concerns about how the information gathered in these tests is used.

The U.N. has now asked the United States government to provide information on the distribution of details obtained via ASVAB by November this year.

Critics of the ASVAB exam say the test scores, along with personal information of the participants, is automatically shared with military recruiters without the knowledge of the student or the consent of their parents under provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. In 2010, Maryland became the first state to ban the release of ASVAB scores to the military. Similar legislation for California was vetoed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008.

Director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, Pat Elder, wrote the Maryland legislation and has worked with school administrators across the country. Elder dispelled a common misconception, explaining that No Child Left Behind does not automatically release ASVAB scores but No Child Left Behind does give military recruiters student contact information.

“Whether the test is mandatory or just strongly encouraged by school officials, student information including social security numbers and in-depth demographic information along with three hours of test results [is] released to recruiters without parental consent and often parental knowledge,” he said. “And this is an egregious violation of civil rights and these ASVAB results are the only information leaving American schools without parental consent.”

He said “there’s a great deal of confusion” among high school administrators about whether they are legally obligated to administer the test and what to do with the test scores once they’re received.

Retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel and the CEO of KIPP, Knowledge and Intelligence Program Professionals, Hal Kempfer said it sounds like the real challenge here is communication -- recruiters, administrators and parents need to have a better understanding amongst each other about ASVAB.

However, Elder and Kempfer both agreed there is nothing wrong with the administration of ASVAB at public institutions.

“In fact it’s an excellent career exploration test,” Elder said. “The thing is, when it initially allowed for the military to enter into the public schools to administer this test, there were certain release options that school officials could pick. And one of the release options is to not release test results at all to recruiting offices but we have found very few administrators who are aware of this ASVAB release Option 8.”

Listeners weighed in and several commenters to the KPCC website said they had in fact taken the ASVAB while they were students but they had no intention to join the military.

“I took that exam in H.S. and was bombarded with military recruiters calling me for months and months afterwards, despite my clearly expressing to them that I had no interest in joining the military ever,” commenter MotoVixen wrote. “It was upsetting to me that they did not respect my request and continued to call repeatedly. Looking back, if I'd known of an option to not release my test results to the military, I would have appreciated that.”

Kempfer said many complaints received about military recruitment and the ASVAB come from several years ago when Iraq and Afghanistan were “hot” and recruiters were pressured to bring in more people. But, he said, the atmosphere around recruitment is different now and recruiters do not feel the same pressure to meet quotas.

But not everyone agrees with Kempfer’s assessment of today’s military recruitment.

“This is SALES 101,” commenter Ralph writes on the KPCC website. “Recruitment is about sales and sales is about the leads. In the eyes of the military, this test and its results is only about creating leads in the hope it will help them meet recruitment quotas, period.”

Nonetheless, 14,000 high schools administer the exam and a thousand students are required to take the ASVAB.

“It isn’t like a job fair,” Kempfer said. “It’s not like McDonald’s recruiting at schools.”

Weigh In:

As a parent, would you, or have you allowed your child to sit the ASVAB exam? What was your experience with military recruiters once they received the information? Do you see the sharing of information as a way to help students into potential lifelong careers?


Pat Elder, director, National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy

Hal Kempfer, retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel and CEO of KIPP knowledge and intelligence program professionals