New military test results: High school grads are not ready for careers

It’s not news to me, but a new Education Trust report that says today’s students are poorly prepared for non-college careers is getting wide play in the press.

The Associated Press says a new study from the Education Trust shows that nearly one in four who tries to join the US Army lack the minimum academic skills required for enlistment.

That already sounds pretty bad, but it looks a lot more serious when you learn that the Army says only about one in four individuals aged 17 to 24 are even qualified to take the service’s test battery. The rest are either physically unfit, a high school dropout, or have a criminal record.

I ranked the states for the percentage of whites listed in the report’s Appendix A table as scoring too low on the services test battery.

Kentucky placed as the gruesomely disappointing second worst state in the nation. Only white applicants from Maryland did more poorly.

It’s important not to overly stress the new study, as it has some important limitations. The test sample isn’t random, but is composed of individuals who self-select to try for admission to the service. Few college-bound students will be in this mix.

On the other hand, this is the most significant data available from a true employment test for non-college track jobs that is uniformly given in all 50 states.

Also, the report does examine a rather important group of non-college bound students. They are healthy, have high school diplomas, and are not in legal trouble. So, the fact that a notable proportion still can’t pass a relatively simple academic test is truly disappointing.

A number of key players in the education area are upset by the report. Responding the announcement, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the AP, “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. I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America’s underperforming education system.”

Click the “Read More” link to learn more about the test and what other key education watchers are saying about the new findings.

The results are based on testing of more than 350,000 Army applicants between 2004 and 2009.

The Army’s tests show the same sorts of education gaps for minorities that we see in Kentucky on testing by the state and by the ACT, Incorporated.

Education Trust actually performed this study. The organization’s president, Kati Haycock told AP, “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. The military doesn’t think that way.”

Says Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution, “A lot of people make the charge that in this era of accountability and standardized testing, that we’ve put too much emphasis on basic skills. This study really refutes that. We have a lot of kids that graduate from high school who have not mastered basic skills.”


  1. "Kentucky placed as the gruesomely disappointing second worst state in the nation."

    A big congratulations to the KEA, Carl Rollins, and all the other legislators that prescribe how Kentucky's educators must do their job while requiring our schools be led by amateurs.

    Where else in this great country could such failure be rewarded with over 50% of the state budget and no accountability for results?

    Where else could incompetent educators retain their jobs and just be moved to ruin other lives?

    Where else could such momentum be maintained to keep Kentucky kids LAST just to protect the comfortable status quo of the adults?

    Only in Kentucky with its power politics and special interests leading the way.