Md. gets 1st US law barring schools from giving student test results to military recruiters

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — 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. Topics on the test range from math and reading to knowledge of electronics and automobiles.

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.

Roughly 650,000 U.S. 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." Grasmick took no position on the legislation in her letter and did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said the data is 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."

While Maryland is the first state to pass a law prohibiting the automatic release of scores to military recruiters, some individual school districts elsewhere, including the Los Angeles school system, have policies to the same effect. Hawaii's Department of Education implemented its statewide policy last year. Four Maryland counties — Howard, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George's — also blocked the direct release of scores to recruiters before the state law was passed.

State legislators in California passed a similar measure in 2008, but it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

School districts in Maryland have had different policies for when and how they administer the roughly 3.5 hour multiple-choice exam. Some school districts, like rural Allegany County, only offer the test to students at a technical high school, while individual schools in the Baltimore City district can choose whether to administer the exam.

Maryland state senator Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said he sponsored the bill partly because school districts' approaches varied. He said constituents also told him they didn't think local school districts knew their options.

"They thought they had to turn over information to recruiters," Raskin said.

Some argued that the measure was antimilitary. Baltimore County Republican Sen. Andy Harris said the legislation gives students the impression that they should be skeptical of military careers.

"I think sending any message while we're at war overseas that the military in any way is not an honorable profession is the wrong message to send," Harris said.

Del. Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, sponsored the bill in the House, bristled at that argument.

"For me, it wasn't the military piece, it was the parental permission," Hixson said. "Parents didn't know what was going on and children didn't realize what was going on."

Toria Latnie, who now lives in Michigan, said a counselor at her son's Florida charter high school told seniors in late 2008 that the military aptitude test was a requirement for graduation. Latnie researched the exam online and refused to allow her son to take the test.

"I was angry, very angry," said Latnie, a mother of five. "I felt lied to, deceived, like people were trying to go behind my back and give my child's private information to the military."


On the Net:

Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery:

National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy: