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Md. bars release of tests to military

Public schools can choose to not send

By Kathleen Miller
Associated Press / May 13, 2010

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A first-of-its-kind law bars public high schools in Maryland from automatically sending student scores on a widely used military aptitude test to recruiters, a practice that critics say was giving the armed forces backdoor access to young people without their parents’ consent.

School districts around the country have the choice of whether to administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam, and ones that offer it typically pass the scores and students’ contact information directly to the military.

The Maryland law, the first in the nation after similar California legislation was vetoed, was signed last month and bars schools from automatically releasing the information to military recruiters. Instead, students, and their parents if they are under 18, will have to decide whether to give the information to the military. The law takes effect in July. One other state, Hawaii, has a similar policy for its schools, but not a law.

About 650,000 US high school students took the exam in the 2008-2009 school year, and the Department of Defense says scores for 92 percent of them were automatically sent to military recruiters. In the fiscal year that ended in September, 7.6 percent of those who enlisted in the military used scores from the test as part of their applications.

Nancy Grasmick, Maryland Superintendent of Schools, said in a letter to lawmakers that the test and score analysis are “free services that public schools often utilize as part of their ongoing career development and exploration programs.’’

Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said the data are used both to screen students’ enlistment eligibility and to determine their interests and skills for nonmilitary careers. Asked about criticism that the military is going around parents, Lainez said in an e-mail that “parents and other influencers are in the best position to help advise students of various career opportunities, and the pros and cons associated with each of the choices.’’

Members of the Maryland Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, which pushed for the legislation, argued the military isn’t upfront about the test’s real purpose. Coalition member and high school teacher Pat Elder said he became involved in the issue after volunteering on a phone hot line for troubled soldiers. Many told him they hadn’t considered the military until a recruiter who’d seen their scores contacted them.

“I’ve spoken to ‘C’ or ‘D’ students who are called by a recruiter and told, ‘Dude, you’re really good at this kind of stuff,’ and that’s what it takes for them to join,’’ said Elder, who teaches at the Muslim Community School in Potomac, Md. “There is an insidious, psychological element to these tests.’’

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