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From Draft NOtices, January—March 2010


Military Testing in Schools Dealt Setback by Public Concerns

- Pat Elder

The Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a public service provided to high schools free of charge. The program helps teens find their strengths and helps them set goals for their future.

Officials try to keep recruiters away from the test as much as possible.

— DoD statements on the ASVAB

Every school year hundreds of thousands of high school students across the country are encouraged — and often required — to take a four-hour military exam during school hours. The test, with a name few can remember (the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB), is an integral part of the Pentagon's overall recruitment program. Heightened public concerns about the administration of the school testing program are contributing to its decline, particularly in the last few years.

Many school officials, persuaded by claims that the ASVAB helps students choose appropriate careers, encourage students to take the test. Since 1968 the Pentagon has used the ASVAB to gather a treasure trove of data on 16- and 17-year-olds. ASVAB data goes beyond the name, address, and phone numbers of high school students that military recruiters may receive as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001. Students who take the ASVAB divulge their Social Security number, gender, race, ethnicity, birth date, statement of future plans, and, significantly, their aptitude in ten critical subtest areas.

The ASVAB is the military's entrance exam given to all fresh recruits to determine their aptitude for various military occupations. The test was also administered to 621,000 students in 11,900 high schools across the country during the 2006-2007 school year, the last year for which such data is available. Nationally, the number of students taking the ASVAB dropped 19 percent from 2002 to 2007, accelerating a steady decline that began in 1990.

After the test is administered, military representatives meet with students to discuss their scores and suggest career paths. Later, recruiters make calls to unsuspecting youth, using individualized profiles gathered from test data and other increasingly sophisticated sources. The $10 million program yielded 22,000 recruits two years ago, an investment of $454 per teenager, compared to about $10,000 per recruit overall.

Recruiting impressionable youth is facilitated by the high quality of individualized data gained through the administration of the ASVAB. A high school student in Kentucky, who referred to himself as "a C student at best," described his conversation with an Army recruiter a few weeks after he was required to take the ASVAB. "The recruiter said, 'Dude you did real good on the stuff about the batteries and electrical current. If you don't have anything really good lined up when you graduate, I got a job for you because of your skills. I also got bonuses and you could buy that Camaro Coupe you were talking about. Dude, the ladies love the uniforms.'"

Test takers usually have no say in whether their information is shipped to recruiters, and parents are not required to give their approval. This scenario, however, has changed in a growing number of districts where privacy concerns have prohibited the use of the ASVAB for recruiting purposes. Public opposition has led hundreds of schools in the last few years to either pull the plug on the program or prohibit the test from being used for recruiting. School administrators are catching on in droves.

Although the military promotes the ASVAB as a voluntary "Career Exploration Program" administered to juniors and seniors, the U.S. Army Recruiting Command's School Recruiting Program Handbook says the primary purpose of the ASVAB is to provide military recruiters "with a source of leads of high school juniors and seniors qualified through the ASVAB for enlistment into the Active Army and Army Reserve."

The homepage of the Department of Defense website,, does not identify what the acronym "ASVAB" stands for and fails to mention the primary purpose of the testing regime. In high schools throughout the country, the ASVAB is promoted without revealing its connection to the military or its primary function as a recruitment tool. A new website, created by activists attempting to pass ASVAB-related legislation in several states, is designed to create a more honest portrayal of the ASVAB Program. The site,, contains various resources for activists, students and parents, as well as links to pertinent military documents.

Why the ASVAB is so valuable to the Pentagon

Federal and state laws strictly monitor the release of student information from public schools, but the military manages to circumvent these laws with the administration of the ASVAB. The Family Educational Rights Protection Act (FERPA) and Section 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act both contain requirements for opt-out notifications in releases of student information. Parents are given the right to stop their child’s personal information from being released to third parties, but there are no such requirements in the ASVAB student testing program.

Although military regulations allow schools to administer the test while preventing test results from reaching recruiters, relatively few school administrators across the country have selected the option, often due to lack of information. In fact, only eight percent of the 11,900 schools administering the ASVAB during the 2006-2007 school year took steps to protect the privacy of students taking the test.

What activists can do

Demand school officials select ASVAB Release Option 8!

U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM) Regulation 601-4 identifies several options that schools have regarding the administration and release of ASVAB information. They range from Option 1, which permits test results and other student information to be released to military recruiters without prior consent, to Option 8, which stipulates that the results from the test cannot be used for recruiting purposes. Option 8 is the only choice to insure that ASVAB data is kept out of the hands of recruiters. Inaction on the part of a school will cause USMEPCOM to automatically select Option 1.

Note that students and parents may not decide release options. Activists throughout the country have been busy notifying school administrators about the option to administer the test without forwarding results to recruiters. Many who are working on this issue have discovered it is easier to protect the privacy of students taking the test than it is to eliminate ASVAB testing altogether, due to the alleged benefits of the testing program.

Last summer the Hawaii state Department of Education became the first in the nation to require parental consent to release ASVAB private information and test scores to the military. Activists in Maryland are mounting a statewide campaign to pass legislation that would prohibit the use of the ASVAB as a recruiting device in that state's public schools. Similar legislation passed the Maryland Senate last year. In California, both houses of the state legislature approved a similar measure only to be vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Mandatory Testing

Data released by the Pentagon reveals that more than a thousand high schools require students to take the test even though DoD personnel are prohibited from suggesting to school officials that the test be made mandatory. Subsequent research has revealed hundreds of additional schools that require ASVAB testing. For activists, the practice of mandatory ASVAB testing is perhaps the lowest hanging fruit to target. The trick is determining which districts in a given location actually force students to take the military test.

To research mandatory ASVAB testing in your state, use the Iowa example here. Simply Google: "" asvab "all juniors" and see what comes up. You'll be greeted with more than a hundred high schools in Iowa that force all 11th graders to take the ASVAB.

Determining if the ASVAB is required in a particular school district is a fairly simple two-step process. First, Google the name of the county and state to be researched, along with the words: "public schools". For instance, take Allegany County, Maryland. Google: "Allegany County Maryland Public Schools" to come up with the root of the school system's URL -- in this case, "boe.allconet". Next, put quotes around "boe.allconet" followed by the word ASVAB. You'll come up with pages that mention the ASVAB. Often, a letter to the school superintendent and school board members is all that is required to stop the practice of forcing students to take the test.

The Pentagon Pushes Back

The Department of Defense has published several propaganda pieces to counter the rising tide against ASVAB testing in the public schools. The articles, typically circulated by American Forces Press Service, describe the ASVAB program in terms of a "service" being provided by the military to public schools. The press releases also address the privacy concerns of critics. In one 2008 article, “Aptitude Test Helps Students Find Strengths,” ASVAB administrator Jane Arabian said, "When a student takes the ASVAB, the results are not automatically sent to a military recruiter, though sending the scores to a recruiter is an option the student can choose." 

There's little truth to her statement. Under ASVAB Release Option 1, ASVAB results can automatically be sent to recruiters after waiting seven days. More importantly, students do not choose release options for ASVAB test results. As previously stated, this decision is typically made without parental or student input. In fact, 92 percent of all test takers have their results sent to recruiting services.

Civilian Defense Department employees have been fanning out across the country to "sell" the ASVAB. They give talks in schools and attend school board meetings as well as local and national conferences. They're encouraged to spend up to $1,000 for events where they're able to market the ASVAB.

The Pentagon is also countering resistance by signing Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with the National Association of State Boards of Education in April and the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) in December. ACTE is the nation's largest not-for-profit education association that prepares youth for successful careers. Both MOUs provide a cooperative framework toward improving "next-stage preparedness" and "building a comprehensive understanding of post-secondary choices for students."

For more than 40 years ASVAB testing in the nation's public schools has been a chief component in the Pentagon's recruitment arsenal. Recently, however, public education and resulting indignation have combined to seriously undermine the program and threaten its continuation as a recruiting device. To learn more about confronting military testing in the schools, send an email to:

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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