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Blacks Failing the Grade in Military Testing

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Blacks More Likely to Flunk Entry Standard

By Sommer Brokaw, Special to the NNPA from The Charlotte Post –

The achievement gap is affecting not only African-Americans’ college and career goals on the civilian side, but also their ability to join and move up in the military.

The Education Trust, a Washington-based education research and advocacy organization, released the report “Shut Out of the Military: Today’s High School Education Doesn’t Mean You’re Ready for the Army” last December.

The report is based on a sample of 350,000 high school graduates from 2004-09 who took the Army’s Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test that assesses candidates’ aptitude for enlistment. Four subgroups make up the test: math knowledge, arithmetic reasoning, word knowledge, and paragraph comprehension.

According to the national report, 23 percent of test takers failed to achieve at least 31 out of 99 percentile score - the minimum qualifying score. More than twice as many Blacks as White applicants failed to qualify. Those that do often have lower scores, which could exclude them from higher-level training.

Other branches such as the Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard have higher qualifying scores. Those scoring 50 and higher on the AFQT are eligible for Army incentive programs like college repayment programs and the Army College Fund, a monetary incentive that increases the value of the G.I. Bill benefits.

In N.C., 35.7 percent of 4,824 Black applicants are ineligible based on ASVAB scores compared to 15.3 percent of 6,450 white applicants.

“The fact that they’ve met the graduation requirements of high school, four years of English, three years of math, at least two years of science and social studies but can’t pass this test is disappointing,” said Christina Theokas, director of research at The Education Trust. “That suggests to me our high schools need to think differently about how they’re preparing kids, the rigor of classes, and courses for students to be prepared for that option in the military. A lot of people think that the military is an open access employer for them, that it’s that second chance, but the military is a selective employer.”

End-of-grade and end-of-course tests in N.C. public schools also show an academic gap between Black and White students. In 2008-09, 43.6 percent of Blacks in grades three to eight passed the EOG math and reading tests compared to 76.7 percent of Whites.

“I think we see those gaps in the National Assessment of Education Progress or state standardized achievement tests,” Theokas said. “We’re seeing it reflected here as well with national scores or across most states, you see those disparities jumping out at you.”

The Education Trust study defies the myth that academically unprepared students can always find a place to shape up in the military. Staff Sgt. Desmont Upchurch, a California military recruiter and Durham native, said Blacks and other minorities are hardest hit by perpetuating this myth because they are mostly likely to fail the test.

He added he would like to set up a tutoring program in Durham Public Schools to tutor young minorities who are failing the test at disproportionate rates, because they are missing out on what the military has to offer like college tuition assistance.

Eileen Lainez, office of the assistant secretary of defense at the Department of Defense, said in an emailed response that recruiting is always a challenge. Entrance standards are stringent, and just 25 percent of American youth qualify for enlistment in the military.

“We should not lose sight of the fact that, although the overall youth population is large, a relatively small proportion of American youth is qualified to enlist,” said Dr. Curtis Gilroy, director of accession policy for the Department of Defense in a 2009 statement to the House Armed Services Committee. “It is an unfortunate fact that much of the contemporary youth population is currently ineligible to serve.

“For example, about 35 percent are medically disqualified (with obesity a large contributing factor), 18 percent have problems with drugs or alcohol, 5 percent have some level of criminal misbehavior, 6 percent have more dependents than can reliably be accommodated in the early career, and 9 percent are in the lowest aptitude category. Another 10 percent are qualified but are attending college. That leaves fewer than 5 million – or about 15 percent of the roughly 31 million youth ages 17-24 – who are available to recruit.”

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