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Forced Military Testing in America's Schools

Pat Elder

The invasion of student privacy associated with military testing in U.S. high schools has been well documented by mainstream media sources, like USA Today and NPR Radio. The practice of mandatory testing, however, continues largely unnoticed.

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB is the military's entrance exam that is given to fresh recruits to determine their aptitude for various military occupations. The test is also used as a recruiting tool in 12,000 high schools across the country. The 3-hour test is used by military recruiting services to gain sensitive, personal information on more than 660,000 high school students across the country every year, the vast majority of whom are under the age of 18. Students typically are given the test at school without parental knowledge or consent. The school-based ASVAB Career Exploration Program is among the military's most effective recruiting tools.

In roughly 11,000 high schools where the ASVAB is administered, students are strongly encouraged to take the test for its alleged value as a career-exploration tool, but in more than 1,000 schools, according to information received from the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command through a Freedom of Information Act request, tens of thousands of students are required to take it.  It is a particularly egregious violation of civil liberties that has been going on almost entirely unnoticed since the late 1960's.

Federal laws strictly monitor the release of student information, but the military manages to circumvent these laws with the administration of the ASVAB.  In fact, ASVAB test results are the only student information that leaves U.S. schools without the opportunity provided for parental consent.

Aside from managing to evade the constraints of federal law, the military may also be violating many state laws on student privacy when it administers the ASVAB in public high schools. Students taking the ASVAB are required to furnish their social security numbers for the tests to be processed, even though many state laws specifically forbid such information from being released without parental consent. In addition, the ASVAB requires under-aged students to sign a privacy release statement, a practice that may also be prohibited by many state laws.

A typical school announcement reads, "All Juniors will report to the cafeteria on Monday at 8:10 a.m. to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Whether you’re planning on college, a technical school, or you’re just not sure yet, the ASVAB Career Exploration Program can provide you with important information about your skills, abilities and interests – and help put you on the right course for a satisfying career!" This announcement or one very similar to it greets students in more than a thousand high schools across the country. There's no mention of the military or the primary purpose of the test, which is to find leads for recruiters.

Imagine you're Captain Eric W. Johnson, United States Navy, Commander, United States Military Entrance Processing Command and you had the complete cooperation of the Arkansas Department of Education to recruit high school students into the U.S. military. The first step you might take is to require juniors in public high schools to take the ASVAB. ASVAB results are good for enlistment purposes for up to two years. The ASVAB offers a treasure trove of information on students and allows the state's top recruiter to pre-screen the entire crop of incoming potential recruits. "Sit down, shut up, and take this test. That's an order!"

142 Arkansas high schools forced 10,000 children to take this military test without parental consent in Arkansas alone last year. "We've always done it that way and no one has ever complained," explained one school counselor.

The Army recruiter's handbook calls for military recruiters to take ownership of schools and this is one way they're doing it. The U.S. Army Recruiting Command ranks each high school based on how receptive it is to military recruiters. Schools are awarded extra points when they make the ASVAB mandatory. (See page 25 of: USAREC pub. 601-107)

Meanwhile, military recruiting regulations specifically prohibit that the test from being made mandatory.

"Voluntary aspect of the student ASVAB: School and student participation in the Student Testing Program is voluntary. DOD personnel are prohibited from suggesting to school officials or any other influential individual or group that the test be made mandatory. Schools will be encouraged to recommend most students participate in the ASVAB Career Exploration Program. If the school requires all students of a particular group or grade to test, the MEPS will support it." (See Page 3-1 of USMEPCOM Reg. 601-4)

Is it entirely coincidental that a thousand schools require students to take the test or does the Department of Defense have regulations in place solely for public consumption that it has no intention of following?

In addition, the Pentagon is grossly underreporting the number of schools with mandatory testing. There are hundreds of schools with required testing that are not reported by the DoD.

Why can't we get traction on this issue?

There is great reluctance in American society to stand up to the U.S. military, particularly concerning the way it runs a dozen programs in the nation's schools. Calls for transparency are met with silence and indignation, a terrible lesson for American high school students.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Pat Elder

Pat Elder

Pat Elder is the Director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, www.studentprivacy.org and also serves on the Steering Committee of the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, www.nnomy.org He can be reached at pelder@studentprivacy.org

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