Student Privacy Compromised by Massive Program
By Pat Elder
In late December, 2013 the Department of Defense released a database on the military's controversial Student Testing Program in 11,700 high schools across the country. An examination of the complex and contradictory dataset raises serious issues regarding student privacy and the integrity of the Student Testing Program in America's schools
The data was released after a protracted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
The DoD's Freedom of Information office reports that 678,000 students participated in the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Career Exploration Program (ASVAB-CEP) during the 2012-2013 school year, down nearly 10% from the previous school year. The three-hour test is the linchpin of the Pentagon's school-based recruiting program and provides the Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM) an invaluable tool in prescreening candidates for military service.
The ASVAB is the military's entrance exam that is given to fresh recruits to determine their aptitude for various military occupations. Since 1968 the test has also been used as a recruiting tool in high schools. It's used by USMEPCOM to gain sensitive, personal information on high school students, the vast majority of whom are under the age of 18. Students typically take the test at school without parental consent and often without parental knowledge.
The Pentagon admits military testing in the nation's schools is a crucial component of maintaining an "all-volunteer" force. In recent years military recruiting has evolved into an exceptionally sophisticated psychological campaign aimed at enticing high school children to enlist. From a myriad of social websites and a host of other sources, recruiters may know, before first contact, that a young man reads wrestling magazines, weighs 155, can bench press 230, drives a ten year-old truck, listens to "classic rock," and enjoys fly fishing. They know where his girlfriend stands on his looming decision to enlist. But the ASVAB opens the door to a student's cognitive abilities, something recruiting services can't purchase or find on line. A child's virtual social being, his intellectual capabilities, and mechanical aptitude are combined to create a precise, virtual portrait, all before a recruiter's first contact.
In 1974 The Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) stood in the way of the DoD's carte blanche access to student education records. The law, which is still in effect today, requires a signed parental release statement before "education records" are released to third parties. The Pentagon's position, explained in the ASVAB Counselor Guide (See page 14) is that the ASVAB is proctored by DoD personnel and that ASVAB results become education records only after the test is scored by the DoD and returned to the school. This way, the brass argues, ASVAB results are not education records. Instead, they're "military records". ASVAB results are the only information about students leaving American schools without providing for parental consent.
USMEPCOM Regulation 601-4 (Section 3) identifies several options schools have regarding the administration and release of ASVAB information. These options range from Option 1, which permits test results and other student information to be released to military recruiters without prior consent, to Option 8, the only one that prevents test results from being used for recruiting purposes. The problem is that many, if not most school administrators are unaware the release options exist and USMEPCOM officials are not going out of their way to tell them. Coalition partners in several states report telling hundreds of school officials who did not know about release options.
Inaction on the part of a school will cause USMEPCOM to
automatically select Option 1.
53% of all students taking the ASVAB across the country did so under Release Option 1. Students and parents may not determine which release option is used; therefore they cannot opt out of releasing the information individually. Just 15% of students taking the ASVAB had Option 8 selected by school officials.
DoD officials wash their hands of the privacy issue. "Whether or not a school official seeks students' or parents' or guardians' permission is entirely up to that school, and we don't have anything to say about that at all," said Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon's prior Director of Accession Policy during an NPR Interview in 2010.
Meanwhile, the DOD markets the ASVAB in high schools without revealing its tie-in to the military or its primary function as a recruitment tool. School counselors and administrators encourage students to take the test that many claim assists students in matching their abilities with certain career paths. It is terribly deceptive.
A Snapshot of the data