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Data released by the Department of Defense on August 1st shows the military administered its 3-hour enlistment exam to nearly 700,000 students in 12,000 high schools during the 2013-14 school year, a 2% increase over the prior year.
The Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPCOM) administers the exam, known as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, (ASVAB). The database was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
An examination of the data raises serious issues regarding student privacy and the integrity of the student testing program in America’s schools. The three-hour test is the linchpin of the Pentagon’s school-based recruiting program and provides MEPCOM an invaluable tool in prescreening candidates for military enlistment. Students are required to furnish detailed demographic information and their social security numbers before sitting for the exam.
According to the data, 81% of the Juniors and Seniors who took the ASVAB during the 2013-2014 school year had their results sent to recruiters without their parents’ consent. School officials blocked the release of test results to recruiters for the remaining 19%.
The ASVAB furnishes highly coveted information to recruiters regarding the cognitive abilities of potential recruits. Recruiters already possess detailed files containing personal information on America’s youth, gained through scores of commercial data dealers and countless hours trolling social media sites and chat rooms. For instance, recruiters know Johnny has a crush on country singer Rae Lynn, plays Mortal Kombat, works at Jiffy Lube, plays defensive end, and bench presses 180. The ASVAB, however, provides information recruiters can’t purchase – or find online. The ASVAB shows Johnny struggles with Algebra I and has a reading comprehension level of an 8th grader. The ASVAB completes the valuable virtual dossier that assists recruiters before first contact. Military recruiting is a sophisticated psychological pursuit.
The data released by the DOD identifies 900 schools that require students to take the test, although the number is actually much larger. For instance, North Little Rock High School tested 680, almost all of its juniors and seniors. All of the data was shipped to recruiters without mom and dad in the loop, while the Pentagon’s database reports that the students took the test voluntarily. (70% of the students are economically disadvantaged, and the school is 89% minority.) Alief Early College High School in Houston tested 500 seniors. The school is 97% minority. The database says the test was not required. How do they manage to get 500 teenagers to voluntarily take a military enlistment test?
In 2013 The UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child charged that mandatory military testing was a violation of The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. The Committee found that “Parents and children are often unaware of the voluntary nature of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test organized in schools or its links to the military and that, in some instances, students were reportedly informed that the test was mandatory.” In its response, the U.S. denied the mandatory nature of the test.
In March 2016, Shannon Salyer, national program manager for the ASVAB school testing program, told Education Week, “It’s always voluntary.”
In 1974 The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) stood in the way of the DoD’s unfettered access to student education records. The law, which is still in effect today, requires a signed parental release statement before “education records” are released to third parties. The Pentagon says ASVAB results are military records rather than education records, allowing test data to be released without parental consent or knowledge.
Consequently, ASVAB results are the only information about students leaving American schools without providing for parental consent. Meanwhile, DoD officials wash their hands of the privacy issue. “Whether or not a school official seeks students’ or parents’ or guardians’ permission is entirely up to that school, and we don’t have anything to say about that at all,” said Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon’s prior Director of Accession Policy during an NPR Interview in 2010.
MEPCOM markets the ASVAB in high schools as a career exploration program without revealing its tie-in to the military or its primary function as a recruitment tool. School counselors and administrators encourage students to take the test that many claim assists students in matching their abilities with certain career paths.
Once the test is scored, the recruiting command sends recruiters to the schools to meet with students to discuss “career paths.”
In 2010 Maryland became the first state to pass a law prohibiting the release of ASVAB data to recruiters without parental consent. Specifically, the law calls on schools to select ASVAB Release Option 8, which prohibits the transfer of student information to recruitment services without mom and dad signing off. Hawaii and New Hampshire have similar laws.
David McGuire, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, captures the view of civil rights advocates regarding ASVAB testing. He said, “Students do not leave their constitutional rights behind when they walk through the schoolhouse door. Students and parents in Connecticut deserve better protections for the sensitive information that the ASVAB test collects. We hope that this new data will inspire our state to take up meaningful changes to safeguard students’ private information.”
Snapshot of ASVAB Data across the U.S.
Total Tested 678,248 691,042
Total Schools 11,741 11,893
# Students Option 8* 105,222 113,976
% Option 8 15.51 18.74
# Schools Option 8 2408 2575
# Schools Mandatory 938 908
*results not sent to recruiters
Compiled by National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy from data
furnished by Office of the Secretary of Defense
Freedom of Information Act Request 15-F-1532
Office of Freedom of Information 1155 Defense Pentagon
Data available at: www.studentprivacy.org
Pat Elder is the director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that works to prohibit the automatic release of student information to military recruiting services from the nation's high schools.