Many US youths unqualified as military recruits

Our view: Entrance-exam failure rates show we need to get serious about schools
2010-12-22T00:00:00Z Many US youths unqualified as military recruits Arizona Daily Star
December 22, 2010 12:00 am

You may be weary of reading about how inadequate our schools are in Arizona. We certainly don't enjoy making this disheartening point over and over again in these pages.

And yet the evidence continues to mount that this country and our state are failing to prepare young people to be self-reliant, employable, financially independent adults.

Further, our failure to properly educate the young people of our state will not be reversed until voters and the public servants they elect recognize the problem and step up to insist that a strong educational system be a top priority.

The most recent alarming research on this topic came Tuesday, when The Education Trust released study results showing that 23 percent of young people who try to join the military fail the enlistment test of basic math, science and reading skills. In Arizona, just under 20 percent fail - that's one in five.

The study looked at nearly 350,000 high school graduates between the ages of 17 and 24 who took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) between 2004 and 2009. The test is used to determine whether applicants are qualified to serve, and also to determine what occupations they are prepared to pursue.

As we said, nearly a quarter couldn't get the minimum score required in order to serve in any military branch: Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard. The data for minority groups was even more distressing; in Arizona and nationwide, for instance, nearly 30 percent of Hispanics fail to qualify.

As The Associated Press reported Tuesday, this data comes on the heels of a Pentagon study that found 75 percent of all those aged 17 to 24 cannot serve because they're physically unfit, have criminal records - or never graduated from high school at all.

The ASVAB results are also alarming, The Education Trust said in its report, because the test scores "paint a remarkably accurate picture of levels of readiness for a wide range of occupations in civilian life as well as in the armed forces..." Thus, "poor performance strongly suggests that these young men and women also are not prepared to succeed in the civilian workforce," the Trust reported.

In Arizona, the situation is especially bleak. Arizona's per-student spending is among the lowest in the nation; on most measurements our educational system ranks below average - or worse.

As we reported earlier this month, Arizona is one of only three states where the high school graduation rate dropped significantly between 2002 and 2008 - from 74.7 percent to 70.7 percent, according to America's Promise Alliance, a group that aims to push the national graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020.

The same study found that the rate of Arizona fourth-graders testing at or above proficiency in reading barely budged from 23 percent to 25 percent between 2003 and 2009. Think about that: That's three in four who weren't reading at an appropriate skill level by fourth grade.

As for the military qualification test findings, The Education Trust's president, Kati Haycock, noted that "the findings should trouble high school educators most of all, because this shatters the comfortable myth that academically underprepared students will find in the military a second-chance pathway to success. For too long, we educators have dismissed worries about the low academic achievement of 'those students' with the thought that 'if they're not prepared for college or career, a stint in the service will do 'em some good.'

"Actually 'those students' will not have the military as a choice."

That's a fact that must spur us all to action.

Arizona Daily Star

Test examples:

Sample questions from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery:

• Dana receives $30 for her birthday and $15 for cleaning the garage. If she spends $16 on a CD, how much money does she have left?

A. $29

B. $27

C. $24

D. $12

• Ephemeral most nearly means:

A. short-lived

B. mythical

C. dead

D. exceptional

• Buddhism is a religion that must be viewed from many angles. Its original form, as preached by Gautama in India and developed in the early years succeeding and as embodied in the sacred literature of early Buddhism, isn't representative of the actual Buddhism of any land today.

According to this passage:

A. Most Buddhists live in India.

B. Buddhist teachings have changed over the years.

C. Buddhism draws its teachings from early Christianity.

D. Buddhist temples can be found in any land of the world.

• If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?

A. 6

B. 2

C. 4

D. 1/2

SOURCE: AP, www.military.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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