Maryland First State to Bar Schools Releasing Tests to Military

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Associated Press

Maryland First State to Bar Schools Releasing Tests to Military

by
Kathleen Miller

Al Goldis / AP Photo

Toria Latnie is shown Wednesday, May 12, 2010, outside her home in Lansing, Mich. Latnie said a counselor at her son's Florida charter high school told seniors in late 2008 that a military aptitude test was a requirement for graduation. She researched the exam online and refused to allow her son to take the test. (AP)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - A first-of-its-kind law bars public high schools in
Maryland from automatically sending student scores on a widely used
military aptitude test to recruiters, a practice that critics say was
giving the armed forces backdoor access to young people without their
parents' consent.

School districts around the country have the
choice of whether to administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude
Battery exam, and ones that offer it typically pass the scores and
students' contact information directly to the military. Topics on the
test range from math and reading to knowledge of electronics and
automobiles.

The Maryland law, the first in the nation after
similar California legislation was vetoed, was signed last month and
bars schools from automatically releasing the information to military
recruiters. Instead, students, and their parents if they are under 18,
will have to decide whether to give the information to the military.
The law takes effect in July. One other state, Hawaii, has a similar
policy for its schools, but not a law.

Roughly 650,000 U.S. high
school students took the exam in the 2008-2009 school year, and the
Department of Defense says scores for 92 percent of them were
automatically sent to military recruiters. In the fiscal year that
ended in September, 7.6 percent of those who enlisted in the military
used scores from the test as part of their applications.

Nancy
Grasmick, Maryland Superintendent of Schools, said in a letter to
lawmakers that the test and score analysis are "free services that
public schools often utilize as part of their ongoing career
development and exploration programs." Grasmick took no position on the
legislation in her letter and did not respond to a request for comment
from The Associated Press.

Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen
Lainez said the data is used both to screen students' enlistment
eligibility and to determine their interests and skills for nonmilitary
careers. Asked about criticism that the military is going around
parents, Lainez said in an e-mail that "parents and other influencers
are in the best position to help advise students of various career
opportunities, and the pros and cons associated with each of the
choices."

Members of the Maryland Coalition to Protect Student
Privacy, which pushed for the legislation, argued the military isn't
upfront about the test's real purpose. Coalition member and high school
teacher Pat Elder said he became involved in the issue after
volunteering on a phone hot line for troubled soldiers. Many told him
they hadn't considered the military until a recruiter who'd seen their
scores contacted them.

"I've spoken to 'C' or 'D' students who
are called by a recruiter and told 'Dude, you're really good at this
kind of stuff,' and that's what it takes for them to join," said Elder,
who teaches at the Muslim Community School in Potomac, Md. "There is an
insidious, psychological element to these tests."

While Maryland
is the first state to pass a law prohibiting the automatic release of
scores to military recruiters, some individual school districts
elsewhere, including the Los Angeles school system, have policies to
the same effect. Hawaii's Department of Education implemented its
statewide policy last year. Four Maryland counties - Howard, Frederick,
Montgomery and Prince George's - also blocked the direct release of
scores to recruiters before the state law was passed.

State legislators in California passed a similar measure in 2008, but it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

School
districts in Maryland have had different policies for when and how they
administer the roughly 3.5 hour multiple-choice exam. Some school
districts, like rural Allegany County, only offer the test to students
at a technical high school, while individual schools in the Baltimore
City district can choose whether to administer the exam.

Maryland
state senator Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said he sponsored the bill
partly because school districts' approaches varied. He said
constituents also told him they didn't think local school districts
knew their options.

"They thought they had to turn over information to recruiters," Raskin said.

Some
argued that the measure was antimilitary. Baltimore County Republican
Sen. Andy Harris said the legislation gives students the impression
that they should be skeptical of military careers.

"I think
sending any message while we're at war overseas that the military in
any way is not an honorable profession is the wrong message to send,"
Harris said.

Del. Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, sponsored the bill in the House, bristled at that argument.

"For
me, it wasn't the military piece, it was the parental permission,"
Hixson said. "Parents didn't know what was going on and children didn't
realize what was going on."

Toria Latnie, who now lives in
Michigan, said a counselor at her son's Florida charter high school
told seniors in late 2008 that the military aptitude test was a
requirement for graduation. Latnie researched the exam online and
refused to allow her son to take the test.

"I was angry, very
angry," said Latnie, a mother of five. "I felt lied to, deceived, like
people were trying to go behind my back and give my child's private
information to the military."

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