ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery)
What Students, Parents, and Educators Should Know about Military Testing in High Schools
NOTE: According to the Pennsylvania School Code, schools must inform parents and obtain their written permission before giving tests like the ASVAB. The notice must disclose the real purpose of the test, why it is being given in school, who will get the results, and who will have later access to the results.
What Is ASVAB?
Thousands of high schools give students a military test called the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The ASVAB is the admissions and placement test for the US military; it determines whether a potential recruit is qualified for the military and for which military occupational specialties. Military recruiters also claim that it will help a person choose a civilian career, but there is no evidence to support this claim.
ASVAB is a three-hour test with ten sections: Word Knowledge; Paragraph Comprehension; Arithmetic Reasoning; Mathematics Knowledge; General Science; Auto and Shop Information; Mechanical Comprehension; Electronics Information; Numerical Operations; and Coding Speed. It is designed to look for talent and natural skills in subject areas that are considered important for different military jobs. Scores from selected individual sections of the test are combined according to a certain formula to come up with a measure known as AFQT, the Armed Forces Qualifying Test. Recruits must pass the test in order to enlist in the military.
How do recruiters use the ASVAB?
The military uses ASVAB to target young people. Recruiters give special attention to students who meet the standards — what they refer to as “pre-qualified leads.” When students take the ASVAB in school, their personal information — scores, name, address, telephone number, career interests, and so on — is sent to local recruiters. The scores are valid for enlistment for up to two years after the test is taken.
Recruiters contact these young people by letters, phone calls, and visits to home and school. Students often continue to receive calls from recruiters even after they say they are not interested in joining the military. And some recruiters use deceptive sales pitches or even illegal conduct to get people to enlist. Recruiters have threatened students with arrest if they miss an appointment or change their minds. Schools should protect students from this type of harassment. Remember, there is no law that requires a student to consider the military or to talk to a recruiter at all.
Is the ASVAB test required?
No. One of the main reasons schools give ASVAB is that the Pentagon offers it at no cost to the school. The military encourages schools to have all students take the ASVAB, but students cannot be forced to give this kind of personal information to the military. Unfortunately some schools tell students that they must take the test or that it is a valuable career-planning tool. Remember, there is no legal requirement for students to take the ASVAB.
The ASVAB is required for only one purpose: enlistment in the military. Even in schools, it is given under the auspices of the Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS), often with recruiters serving as test proctors.
Do students have to give personal information on the test form?
Yes. Before taking the test, students are required to sign a form that allows the military to use information from the test, including personal contact information, career preferences, and scores. If the student does not include all the information asked for and sign the waiver, the test won’t be processed.
In some states, including Pennsylvania, this is a violation of state laws regarding student privacy.
Who gets the test scores?
The military grades the test, and they send a copy of the scores to the student and the school counselor. Unless a school decides not to allow the release of any scores to military recruiters, local recruiters receive a form known as the ASVAB Recruiter Service Printout. It contains a list of students who took the test, their scores, contact information (name, grade, sex, address, and phone number), and information about the students’ plans after graduation.
ASVAB information also goes to the Department of Defense’s JAMRS database and is then available to a variety of federal agencies without any notice to parent or student.
Can a school give the ASVAB test without having scores released to local military recruiters?
Yes. Schools have eight options regarding the release of test information. At one end of the spectrum is “Option 8 – No release to recruiters…”; at the other end is “Option 1 – No special instructions”. Under this option, recruiters are free to obtain scores and personal information and use them however they wish. Unless the school specifies another option, the test is automatically processed under Option 1, and the results are released.
Note that Option 8 may not stop data from going to the JAMRS database (see above).
Will the ASVAB help a student find the best job for him or her?
It may help a few people, but the skills needed for military jobs are different from those needed for civilian employment, so the ASVAB is not very helpful for choosing jobs outside the military. In some areas, the ASVAB tests what a person already knows how to do, not what he or she could learn to do after being trained. Because of this, a student might be told not to try for some careers that he or she could do well in and would like. The test does not measure interests.
Does ASVAB discriminate against certain groups of people?
Yes. Many service members are assigned to non-technical jobs because of poor ASVAB scores. As a result, many African-American service members are given low-skill jobs when they might have been able to be trained for more technical jobs. Government reports question whether ASVAB is a good measure of how well a person might do in technical training program if given the chance.
Women are also less likely to get good scores on the mechanical sections of the ASVAB test because most haven’t done much mechanical work in the past. Even if they would enjoy this type of work and could learn the skills, they may be counseled to look for other types of jobs.
The ASVAB relies heavily on a person’s English skills, even when it is testing for how well they would do in mechanical jobs. A person who has problems with English will get lower scores and may be told not to try for well-paying mechanical jobs that he or she could do.
What to do if your school gives the ASVAB:
- Organize a campaign to educate students and school staff about how recruiters use the ASVAB.
- Ask the school to make clear that the test is optional and that it is for people who plan to enlist.
- Ask the school to give the ASVAB outside of school hours so it does not interfere with school.
- Ask the school to protect students’ privacy by specifying reporting Option 8 before the test is given; under this option, scores go only to the school, not to recruiters. (If a school chooses this option, students who want their scores to go to the military can release them individually.)
- If the school says vocational testing is needed, ask them to investigate more appropriate tests.
If recruiters visit your school, Insist that school officials allow students to hear other perspectives on military recruitment and service.
For more information, contact the LEPOCO Peace Center (610 691-8730)
Based on information from American Friends Service Committee – National Youth & Militarism Program
LEPOCO Peace Center
313 W. Fourth Street
Bethlehem, PA 18015