Undereducated applicants could hurt U.S. military

U.S. map shows percentage of failed aptitude tests in each state by applicants between the ages of 17 and 20 between 2004 and 2009, and percent of failed tests nationally by race during same period.

U.S. map shows percentage of failed aptitude tests in each state by applicants between the ages of 17 and 20 between 2004 and 2009, and percent of failed tests nationally by race during same period.

A new report by the Education Trust says almost 25 percent of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam.

In response to the report, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Associated Press, “Too many of our high school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career — and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces. I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America’s underperforming education system.”

And retired Navy Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett told the news service, “If you can’t get the people that you need, there’s a potential for a decline in your readiness.”

According to a story in the AJC:

The report by The Education Trust found that 23 percent of recent high school graduates don’t get the minimum score needed on the enlistment test to join any branch of the military. Questions are often basic, such as: “If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?”

The military exam results are also worrisome because the test is given to a limited pool of people: Pentagon data shows that 75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don’t even qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn’t graduate high school.

This is the first time that the U.S. Army has released this test data publicly, said Amy Wilkins of The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based children’s advocacy group. The study examined the scores of nearly 350,000 high school graduates, ages 17 to 20, who took the ASVAB exam between 2004 and 2009. About half of the applicants went on to join the Army.

Recruits must score at least a 31 out of 99 on the first stage of the three-hour test to get into the Army. The Marines, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard recruits need higher scores.

Further tests determine what kind of job the recruit can do with questions on mechanical maintenance, accounting, word comprehension, mathematics and science. The study shows wide disparities in scores among white and minority students, similar to racial gaps on other standardized tests. Nearly 40 percent of black students and 30 percent of Hispanics don’t pass, compared with 16 percent of whites. The average score for blacks is 38 and for Hispanics is 44, compared to whites’ average score of 55.

– By Maureen Downey for the AJC Get Schooled blog

63 comments Add your comment

Sunraynews | Top US news

December 22nd, 2010
1:02 am

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]


December 22nd, 2010
4:47 am

And this is after how many years of “No Child Left Behind”? How’s that workin’ out for ya?

Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate our so-called “core curriculum” and heed the wisdom of people like Marion Brady?


December 22nd, 2010
4:59 am

The mantra of NCLB – test test test test test test and test some more, no time for actual education much less something as important as PE. When will politicians learn that they don’t know everything? Oh, wait, knowing everything about everything (or at least pretending to whilst spouting off ignorant statements) is the major qualification for running for office in this country. No wonder our schools are hurting – those in charge won’t let those who know how to do the job actually do the job.


December 22nd, 2010
6:05 am

Not sure exactly how they gathered this data, since our kids are offered the ASVAB as juniors and/or seniors, and the report says that students who haven’t graduated from high school are not elible to take the test. It’s also not clear if some of the 25% in Georgia who were not eligible might have been graduated with a “special education” diploma rather than a regular education diploma.

However, if we can assume that all of the 13,597 students who failed the ASVAB in Georgia also passed all 5 areas of the GHSGT, perhaps that means that the GHSGT is not measuring what it is designed to measure.

It really would be quite interesting to study these particular students, if data were available. For instance, how many were committee-promoted in earlier grades, after failing the extremely minimal CRCT? How many were educated entirely in Georgia, and how many moved from state to state and/or district to district during their school years? How many were in districts or schools where teachers are not allowed to give zeros or retain students?

Peter Smagorinsky

December 22nd, 2010
6:12 am

Thanks to TheRog, d, and ST671 for making such excellent points (or, of course, points I agree wholeheartedly with). I would also add that the military has a well-documented policy of recruiting high schools with low-SES populations, who historically have done poorly on standardized tests. So the data are badly skewed by the sampling error, that is, by relying on a population that does not represent the whole. You can’t generalize from the finding that kids who tend to do poorly on such tests also did poorly on this one, and say that the whole system is broken.


December 22nd, 2010
6:13 am

I forget who really said this (you can find credit given to Bill Gates, but I remember reading that it wasn’t him who said it) – but there are 11 “rules for life.” One of them says something to the effect that your school may have done away with winners and losers and you get as many times as you want to get the correct answer, but this isn’t anything like real life.

What happened to preparing students for real life? I’ve heard through the grape vine that the newest area superintendent in DeKalb County has said something to the effect that we are not there to prepare students for real life, we are there to teach curriculum. If that’s true, we are failing our students. I hope that she never did say anything remotely like that.


December 22nd, 2010
6:44 am

Regarding this article, I think the sample size is probably too small ans skewed to extrapolate anything of value from it. It does get attention until you begin doing a ‘deep dive’ on the methodology used.

d also said, One of them says something to the effect that your school may have done away with winners and losers and you get as many times as you want to get the correct answer, but this isn’t anything like real life.

I believe we have to look no further than the mirror in most cases for this happening. The community has defined ‘good and bad’ schools based on the testing results on the masses. Ask a real estate agent how easy their job is to sell a house in an area the community has determined to be a ‘bad’ school. Ask a principal and the teachers the stigma associated with working in an environment deems to be bad. Ask them what it is like to be evaluated poorly despite their best efforts considering the many events beyond their control that may prevent them in reaching arbitrary standards. This is how we as a society have separated most, as a winner or a loser.


December 22nd, 2010
6:47 am

So what kind of test questions are on the Army’s entrance exam? “Curriculum” type questions or “real life” questions?

As for teaching the curriculum, there is nothing inherently wrong (or even questionable in my view) about that. The question is how much actual instruction is going on in our public middle schools and high schools. The anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered from recent high school graduates is that instruction and learning are compromised by class disruptions of various kinds and teachers’ willingness to give students credit for simply coming to class and staying in their seats.

masters degree

December 22nd, 2010
7:13 am

I love the fact that so many people are using probability and statistics and looking at the data…. we need to do a lot more of that.

masters degree

December 22nd, 2010
7:15 am

It is true that schools in the U.S. are poo poo. It is a shame that third world countries have harder curriculum.

Buzz G

December 22nd, 2010
7:53 am

You can’t fix stupid. Education is not the answer. In some areas of Atlanta, less than half the population graduate from high school. In Detroit, less than one quarter of the people graduate from high school. But most who drop out do so because they can’t or won’t handle the work. And if you make classes more difficult, you will have more drop outs and more disruption for those who can benefit from an education. Those who cannot read, write or do basic math need to leave the educational system and get jobs. I know functional illiterates who do well in the work world driving trucks, construction equipment, etc. And if we removed illegal aliens from the work force, even more basic jobs would open up for the functionally illiterate.

Mr. Jackson

December 22nd, 2010
7:54 am

I graduated in 1998 from a small town school in Nahunta, GA and I can honestly say that back in my days of high school if you had no intentions of joining the military then these tests were not taken seriously at all. I myself did take it seriously and scored in the upper percentiles and enjoyed a tour in the Army. But I believe these numbers are tainted and flawed.


December 22nd, 2010
7:57 am

This is nothing less than a stark indictment against the public education system in our country and a threat to the future of the nation. Any parent who “turns” their kid over to the public education system and fails to become directly involved in WHAT their kid is being taught and HOW they are being taught is, in my opinion, guilty of child neglect.

Militarily, this has a direct and profound impact on the ability to recruit quality Soldiers into the Army. It also has dire 2nd and 3rd order effects on unit readiness. In the Army today, unit leadership has to spend a great amount of time attempting to bring these substandard new Soldiers up to a level they should already have been at as high school graduates, not only in the area of aptitude but in areas of physical fitness and basic social development…where the today’s youth is also are lacking.


December 22nd, 2010
8:13 am

Perfect proof that it all starts with accountability. Teachers are not held accountable for teaching, or lack thereof. Why is that? Because of the stupid teachers UNIONS make it next to impossible to fire an educator that isn’t doing his/her job. So what do we get? We get countless schools cheating on the CRCT scores, we have teachers passing idiots because they don’t want to be responsible for them, we have children that are graduating that can’t read or read at a 2nd grade level and can’t dicern that x = 2 in an elementary math problem.

This is really pathetic. All you union loving jackwads need to point a finger at the teachers unions and ask them what their real intention is….

jonny Quest

December 22nd, 2010
8:17 am

This isn’t a big deal. After another 10 years go by and we’re still in Iraq/Afghanistan, and possibly the Koreas, troop numbers will be so low, they’ll be letting in anybody that can carry a rifle. Trust me….


December 22nd, 2010
8:19 am

The ones that fail the entrance exam could be put on the front lines as cannon fodder.


December 22nd, 2010
8:21 am

Is this the same test as the ASVAB or a different test? My nephew took an entrance test that was not the ASVAB, which I thought was only given in high school.


December 22nd, 2010
8:26 am

Twist and turn it any way you want and this is the end product of NCLB. At what point are we going to admit that it is a policy that has taken our education system down the wrong path. We know the “Texas Miracle” never really happened. We know that the test score gains in NYC weren’t all they were cracked up to be. We know that many corporations were able to make a considerable wad of money (Reading First) from NCLB.


December 22nd, 2010
8:30 am

LoL..I know a guy in South Florida who talks all the time about being a Marine on his facebook page..well..found out he FAILED out because he was TOO FAT!..had to go leave basic training to go to the military fatty farm..and still couldn’t cut it!!….

Think its hilarious that he boasts about something he knows nothing about or experienced..if they are not too smart they are too big..sad…


December 22nd, 2010
8:37 am

Why am I not surprised by this finding? I am former Army, discharged in 1992. I joined in 1981 and of course took the ASVAB. I scored so high that I had MY choice of Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), for civilians, your job. At the time I joined, Combat Arms (Infantry, Armor, etc.) were having a hard time getting troops in…why, because the quality of soldier was excellent and scored high on the ASVAB. I can recall some in the more business oriented MOSs were basically bribed by incentives and bonuses for re-enlisting just to man the Combat Arms units.

This finding is telling on the demise of several factors. Family. The family unit for the most part has deteriorated. There were more 2 parent homes, mom usually was at home and dad was the enforcer. They were involved in the childs life and school. EDUCATION. We were prepared to go to work if we chose not to go to college or could not afford to go. There were few incidents of students behaving badly at school for fear of the enforcers at home. COMMUNITY. Growing up we had respect of our surroundings and people. Sure we cursed and acted up, but it was contained in our small circle and we checked one another. Who can remember if you did something wrong, the news of your wrongdoing would beat you home, thus the enforcers would activate (not too mention the neighbors).

Today, we no longer have those basic HUMAN skills. Most parents are forced to work to survive, leaving the student home to fend for themselves, the schools have become mills and have grown the administrations instead of the teaching aspect resulting in oversized budgets too pay for 40 assistant principals and staff, not teachers and materials. Lastly, the decay of the two just listed, completely diminishes the sense of community. We have zombies trying to enter the military now. Shells. We are caught up in everything else and destroying ourselves in the process.

I think the new mantra is the Genie is out of the bottle. Now, how do we get it back in?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by sgermeraad. sgermeraad said: Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Undereducated applicants could hurt U.S. #military http://bit.ly/fMGr1m #edreform [...]


December 22nd, 2010
8:45 am

Students with special education diplomas are not accepted into the military. Very few branches (I think only the Marines) will accept a GED. The military heavily recruits at low SES schools.

If you really wanted answers about what went “wrong” with the education of these students, then look at their CRCT/EOCT history. Did they pass? Was the passing score a minimum score? In their SST folders, is there talk about possible special education referrals? Did these students not qualify for special education because they were one or two points above the requirements?

Before you start pointing your fingers at the teachers (thom71gt) , realize that we are given a “set of policies” to follow. These policies are the direct result of NCLB, state mandates, and state/local budgets. At the classroom level, most teachers do their best to shield the students from the idiotic decisions made at the federal and state levels. This is why policy makers have decided to turn the blame onto teachers. They won’t admit that their policies are the problem. Instead they spend an enormous amount of time and money to “prove” the problem is the teacher.

God Bless the Teacher!

December 22nd, 2010
8:51 am

Mr. Jackson is one of the few posters here that hit the nail on the head. I don’t know about other schools, but at mine any senior could voluntarily sign up to take the ASVAB. Of the ones who did, over half probably signed up to get out of class or ISS for three hours (I suspect, based on whose names have appeared on the ISS list most of the semester). I can imagine the seriousness with which the ASVAB was taken by students in school where all seniors we required to take it. Stop blaming the schools and face the fact that SOCIETY has helped create a generation of students who largely expect multiple retakes, no failing grades, warm fuzzy educational experiences, and interactions that won’t hurt their self esteems. If you want to avoid numbers like shown in the report, and at the same time avoid having to send reserve military in to take care of failed military initiative, REINSTATE THE DRAFT. If going to college will still defer entry, I’ll bet some of the “less motivated” students will become a little more motivated.

An American Patriot

December 22nd, 2010
8:55 am

You know folks, what’s wrong with the way teaching was done all the way through the 1970’s? Teachers taught the subject……teachers did not teach so their students would pass a stupid test (CRCT), a test that doesn’t mean SQUAT. Us old folks seem to have done pretty well……but, it all started falling apart when our stupid federal bureauracy said…..”we’re here to help”. Where has that gotten us?…..in the biggest mess we’ve ever been in, that’s where. Parents, wise up…..start demanding more from your School Systems and start rejecting the feds offer of help. All those supposedly smart folks that are there to help you are only looking out for number ONE and have to justify their existence in the administration someway, somehow……so they start messing with your kids education.


December 22nd, 2010
8:57 am


December 22nd, 2010
8:45 am

You sound like another anti-Bush enabling molly-coddler.


December 22nd, 2010
8:58 am

We need to do more to improve our education system. However, the number is not as shocking as it seems. Who are the people normally taking the ASVAB exam, top, middle or bottom percentile of their graduating class? Where do military normally recruit? Do you ever see recruiters hanging around Westminister, or Walton?


December 22nd, 2010
8:59 am

@thom71gt, how clueless can you be?

First, there are no teachers’ unions in Georgia, but blaming everything on the teachers’ unions makes such an easy and convenient talking point, doesn’t it?

Secondly, if you’ll pay attention, in most cases teachers are not allowed to hold students accountable for performance, especially in elementary grades, and in many cases are not allowed to give zeros for work that isn’t done, and are required to give students multiple chances to make up or retake failing grades. Teachers are frequently not allowed to retain students, and in the majority of cases, the administrators – not teachers – promote students who have not passed either the CRCT or their classes.

Peter Smagorinsky

December 22nd, 2010
9:01 am

A note to thom71gt: There are no teacher unions in Georgia or the South. There’s a national organization that mainly provides benefits for a fee, but not the sort of job-protecting unions that are common in the North. (Full disclosure: I taught in three Chicago-area school districts, two of which were unionized; the third has become unionized since I left in 1990.) Please find me a union in Georgia that provides job protection and post the specifics in any comments you make about union protectionism so that we know specifically what you are talking about.


December 22nd, 2010
9:04 am

@thom71gt – there is a difference between “protecting bad teachers” and making boards of education show that a teacher is truly in the wrong line of work rather than dismissing a teacher because of a personality conflict between the teacher and administration. Our tenure law does the former. Boards of education must show that the teacher is in the wrong line of work – and frankly, I have seen our “union” assist teachers that need to make the transition do just that. I don’t want to work with a “bad” teacher. It makes my job harder. I will, however, insist that the process is followed. Perhaps if we look at the strongly unionized states, which just happen to run laps around Georgia, educationally, we could learn something about improving the educational model in our state.


December 22nd, 2010
9:12 am

OK…23% of 350,000 is 80,500. Divide that number by 5 years (the number of years the data was collected) and you get….16,100 students.

Roughly 16,000 students a year who don’t pass the ASVAB. How many students graduated high school during this time period?

Wikipedia says that in the year 2000, 76.6 million students were enrolled in schools from k-12. So if we divide that number by 13, you get 5.89 million per grade.

So, theoretically, out of the 5.89 million who should be graduating each year, how many take the ASVAB?


December 22nd, 2010
9:12 am

I went to public schools and when I eventually enlisted, I aced my ASVAB. That’s extremely rare for women. My recruiter had to grade the test 3 times. Of course, I was taught to think.


December 22nd, 2010
9:13 am

Instead of fixing the problem or making recruits smarter so they can pass the tests, they will instead fix the symptom of the problem and change the tests so just about anybody can pass it. That will keep from hurting anybody’s feelings or inflicting emotional stress, pain and suffering, loss of ego, loss of self esteem, etc.

The fact is, the people signing up just can’t pass the test.

Here is what they will do:

Make the tests easier to pass with simpler questions, remove questions that require any kind of thought processes, common sense, reasoning or problem solving abilities, provide special tutoring and answers in advance of the tests, remove restrictions that would keep criminals from signing up (that would be unfair, bigoted and racist), remove physical restrictions since people with those liabilities would feel disenfranchised and consider not being able to sign up uncaring and insensitive.

I heard to females talking and one says she is going to join up so the government will pay for her 3 out of wedlock children from 3 different fathers. She needs the money and the health benefits. That is her only motivation. She will make a fine soldier with her tattoos, press on nails, cell phone and food stamps.

Like Presbo said, in these times, it is time for a new direction and we need to become an especially sensitive nation.


December 22nd, 2010
9:14 am

There is no teacher union in GA. We do not have collective bargaining rights. We do have “professional organizations” PAGE and GAE, but without collective bargaining, they are not unions.
As for your other points, decisions about who is passed on to the next grade level is made by a panel that includes one teacher, administration, counselors, psychologists and parents. Unfortunately, it is often the recommendation of this panel (read: parents and the principal or other admin) to pass a student on when they clearly do not meet requirements. As far as retention, I do not know the answer. I see both sides.

As for the original post – this data is completely skewed. Why is this news? Low SES populations that are targeted by the military are
not well prepared. Hasn’t that always been true – isn’t that why the military visits these schools in the first place?


December 22nd, 2010
9:15 am

@Dr.No….Yup, that’s me. I started to add to my post that the current “war on education” often reminds me of the war on “weapons of mass destruction.”

I’m ashamed to say I bought that argument at the time :(


December 22nd, 2010
9:15 am

Ironic that the young man who was being proceessed with me graduated from a private Chrusistian school and had to take the same test twice in order to pass.


December 22nd, 2010
9:18 am

Mom & Teacher, Keep watching. When our General Assembly meets, it is an every day occurrence to see how many bills they can pass to continue destroying public schools, and I know this governor will be the greatest promoter of the demise of our schools. I am on “pins and needles” every day they are in session. Not one educational plan-that I can remember-has ever had input from people on the front lines. I retired six years ago and taught over 30 but NEVER heard of a union, so get off your Fox high horse and quit blaming something that doesn’t exist. Every teacher in a classroom can tell you what the solution is, but no one listens.

Incidentally, Dr. John, I am one Board member that I think you would like.

Bama Bill

December 22nd, 2010
9:34 am

Could you put the Test online – sounds like a bunch of baloney to this reader !

Remedial College Classes

December 22nd, 2010
9:47 am

A Hope Scholarship student in the remedial course program at the college I work at was an honor graduate at the top of the graduating class of a private Christian school in Georgia.


December 22nd, 2010
10:04 am

Without comparative data from previous tests it is ridiculous to draw conclusions from this one time report. I suspect that results over time would indicate a much different picture. Probably that this test has similar results as other nationwide tests. Based on what is reported it sounds like the achievement gap is just as apparent for ASVAB as for other tests.

James Greene

December 22nd, 2010
10:05 am

Georgia needs to require “Career Pathways” for all students where they take a 3 course sequence of career and technical courses in high school. We need to prepare all students for careers regardles of whether they go to college, technical college, military, or directly to work. Why are we putting 100% of our efforts on sending all students to college? The career and technical courses in high school are critical.

child of the sixties

December 22nd, 2010
10:06 am

Even with NCLB, CRCT, RTI, and all this other garbage, there are many teachers who work very hard to offer their students a true education. However, there are many students who absolutely will not accept the education they’re being offered. They won’t do the work or even make an effort, they disrupt class, distract students who do want to learn, and years later those jackasses can’t even get into the military. And I’m not talking about SPED or ESOL. It’s no surprise they don’t know what x represents in a simple math equation. It’s not shocking that the percentage of people who can’t pass a test to get into the military is increasing. I teach lots of very good, hard working students…and then there are the others who just don’t care.

Janice Tomscat

December 22nd, 2010
10:07 am


I agree. We need more focus on career and technical courses (vocational from my days in school). This new one diploma system we have in Georgia is killing us. Students are stuck in the new math curriculum and cannot graduate. I hope John Barge will stop the madness.


December 22nd, 2010
10:09 am

I’m positive that a large number of students were failing this test prior to NCLB; the only reason the percentage stands out today is because of the number of students being recruited due to our current two wars.

For all the NCLB blameers for education failure; why was NCLB created? It was to try to solve the failure of the education system. Some of you try to make it look like the schools were doing great prior to NCLB.

If a large segment of our population doesn’t qualify for the military, we are in big trouble.


December 22nd, 2010
10:28 am

I have to wonder about these numbers, too. The ASVAB is routinely given to juniors or seniors in high school, without them “applying” to join the service. I remember taking it in high school, and I can assure you I had no plan to investigate the armed services. It is a chance to be out of class, and is treated as such. I think the information as presented is too garbled to draw any conclusion at all! Another case of alarmist statistics, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Do we have too many students who “graduate” with marginal skills? I would guess so. Teachers are required to “correct” grades by giving students multiple chances, principals require students to be passed on who have not shown mastery, we “dummy up” tests. lower cut scores, and then proclaim victory and go home.

If Georgia got serious about expectations and mastery, we would see many, many students who do not “graduate”. Eventually,that number would go up, because parents and students would see that education is not something DONE TO YOU (I got educated), but something you achieve through work and application.

At some point we have to forget about LOOKING good, and start BEING good. It isn’t something done to you. Your teachers are there to facilitate, promote, and guide your learning, not to “give” you your education.


December 22nd, 2010
10:33 am

BTW, I don’t recall seeing Dr. Trotter weighing in here over the last several days. Is he ill? on vacation? banned? restraining himself? (nah) Dr. T, where are you?


December 22nd, 2010
10:47 am

These scores are percentiles based on norms set in 1997 (see http://www.official-asvab.com/understand_coun.htm). So if only 23% are scoring below 97’s 31st percentile, that means students are improving, not getting worse.

HS Public Teacher

December 22nd, 2010
10:48 am

I am wondering why this is a “concern?”

Not every person is an academic one. There are places in this society for those people. There are jobs available for those people. Those people can be productive and live perfectly fine lives.

Why does anyone think that everyone should have a high school diploma?

Does everyone need to know pre-Calculus (math taught in high school)? Does everyone need to know physics (science taught in high school)? I would say that the answer is ‘no.’

High school SHOULD be for those more serious about academics and especially for those wanting to go to college. That’s it. Nothing more.

[...] test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn’t graduate high school.”(more)    Comments (0) Go to main news [...]

Marlboro Man

December 22nd, 2010
10:57 am

We need to declare another war on our citizens. How about a war on “Not good enough”

War on drugs
War on poverty
War on illiteracy
War on hunger


December 22nd, 2010
11:15 am

I recall taking only the ITBS and an SAT. After NCLB, students are tested nine ways to Sunday every time they turn around and you ask who benefits from this? Not the student! Follow the money, I’m sure you will find politicians and big businesses are to blame for the continued onslaught of testing. This in turn has generated an entirely new product to improve testing scores as it continues to spiral out of control. When will it ever stop?