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Education Reporter

Nearly 1 in 4 Fail Military Exam
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Almost a quarter of young people who tried to join the military between 2004-2009 did not pass the entrance exam, according to a study released last month. The dismal pass rate is causing concern among military leaders about national security.

The 23% military exam failure rate is even more disturbing because the exam is only given to people who meet other requirements; the Pentagon reports that 75% of 17- to 24-year olds don't even qualify to take the exam because they have a criminal record, didn't graduate from high school, or are physically unfit. (About one-fourth are obese, making them medically ineligible.) Additionally, a passing score isn't even particularly demanding — applicants only need to score 31 out of 99 on the first portion of the three-hour test to enter the Army, though recruits for the Marines, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard need somewhat higher scores.

The Department of Defense is currently meeting recruiting goals, but that could change when the economy improves and more work alternatives become available. "If you can't get the people that you need, there's a potential for a decline in your readiness," said retired Navy Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett. Barnett is part of Mission: Readiness, a group of retired military leaders trying to bring attention to high ineligibility rates. Tim Callahan, with the 80,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators, expressed consternation that such a large proportion of high school graduates failed the exam. Many of the test questions are very basic, such as "If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?" Callahan said he found it "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."

This is the first time the U.S. Army has released testing data publicly, said Amy Wilkins, whose Education Trust group worked with the Army to get raw data on those taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) over the past five years. The study found disparities between whites and minorities similar to those on other standardized tests. Nearly 40% of blacks and 30% of Hispanics fail, compared with 16% of whites. The average score for whites is 55, as compared to 44 for Hispanics and 38 for blacks.

Those who view the military as a fallback for people who don't measure up academically might be surprised at the knowledge needed to successfully serve in the armed forces today. "The military is a lot more high-tech than in the past," explained retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Norman R. Seip. "I don't care if you're a soldier Marine carrying a backpack or someone sitting in a research laboratory, the things we expect of our military members require a very, very well educated force." (Associated Press, 12-21-10)

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