POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 22, 2010
The thinking has always been that for high school graduates who don't do well academically, there's always the military, right?
Wrong, states a new national report.
A new study by the Education Trust states that among high school graduates, nearly a quarter who took Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery entrance exams between 2004 and 2009 nationally did not meet the minimum standard necessary to enlist in the U.S. Army.
The percentage is even greater in Hawaii: 38.3 percent, the highest failure rate in the nation, according to the organization.
The report released yesterday paints a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who cannot answer basic math, science and reading questions.
TAKE THE TESTSample questions from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery:
1) 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?
2) Ephemeral most nearly means:
3) 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:
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.
4) If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?
Answers: 1) A, 2) A, 3) B, 4) B
Many of those students will not have the military as a choice, she said.
The report bolsters a growing worry among military and education leaders that the pool of young people qualified for military service will grow too small.
"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," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America's underperforming education system."
Hawaii Department of Education spokeswoman Sandra Goya said the department is reviewing the findings. "I think we would have to look at it closer before drawing any conclusions," Goya said.
State Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi cautioned against using results of the test as a systemic view of Hawaii's public schools.
"The report itself acknowledges test takers are not a representative sample, is unclear whether applicants came from public or private school, whether they were Hawaii residents or how long they attended school in Hawaii, if at all," Toguchi said.
Public school students have "showed steady gains on state and national standardized tests -- the type of progress that helped Hawaii earn a prestigious $75 million federal Race to the Top award," Toguchi said.
However, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam released last year showed Hawaii's fourth- and eighth-grade students continued to lag behind mainland peers in math.
Toguchi said data in the new report "reaffirm a need for school systems here and nationwide to enhance supports for struggling students, as well as those who don't have the option to attend college upon graduation" -- including vocational and technical preparation.
The effect of the low military eligibility rate might not be noticeable now -- the Department of Defense says it is meeting its recruitment goals -- but that could change as the economy improves, said retired Navy Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett.
"If you can't get the people that you need, there's a potential for a decline in your readiness," said --Barnett, who is part of the group Mission: Readiness, a coalition of retired military leaders working to bring awareness to the high ineligibility rates.
The Education Trust study found that 23 percent of recent high school graduates do not get the minimum score needed on the enlistment test to join any branch of the military.
The military exam results are also worrisome because the test is given to a limited pool of people. Pentagon data show that 75 percent of those age 17 to 24 do not even qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or did not graduate from high school.
Educators expressed dismay that so many high school graduates are unable to pass a test of basic skills.
"It's surprising and shocking that we are still having students who are walking across the stage who really don't deserve to be and haven't earned that right," said Tim Callahan, with the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, a group that represents more than 80,000 educators.
Kenneth Jackson, 19, of Miami enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school. He said passing the exam is easy for those who paid attention in school, but blamed the education system for why more recruits are not able to pass the test.
This is the first time that the 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 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, math and science.
The study shows 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 do not pass, compared with 16 percent of whites.
Even those passing muster usually are not getting scores high enough to snag the best jobs.
"A lot of times, schools have failed to step up and challenge these young people, thinking it didn't really matter -- they'll straighten up when they get into the military," said Haycock. "The military doesn't think that way."
Entrance exams for the military date to World War I. The test has changed over time as computers and technology became more prevalent, and skills like ability to translate Morse code have fallen by the wayside.
The test was overhauled in 2004, and the study only covers scores from 2004 through 2009 to avoid a comparison between two versions of the test.
Star-Advertiser writer William Cole and The Associated Press contributed to this report.