A Semi-Exception To The Fundamental Constant Of Sociology
December 22, 2010, 07:00 AM
A+
|
a-
Print Friendly and PDF
You always come across smug dismissals of The Bell Curve as discredited, but the people who think they are so smart on this topic can never explain why the U.S. military has put huge emphasis on testing for generations. In fact, I once interviewed the retired head pscyhometrician of one of the major branches of the military, who had provided the military's AFQT testing data to Charles Murray. He said Murray and Herrnstein had done a bang up job with it.

In general, the military tries to keep a very low profile about their addiction to IQ-like testing, mostly releasing data to things like Rand Corporation studies, but now the Army has cooperated with The Education Trust.

From the Associated Press:

Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the military fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can't answer basic math, science and reading questions.

The report by The Education Trust found that 23 percent of recent high school graduates don't get the minimum score needed on the enlistment test to join any branch of the military.

That's 23% of high school graduates who want to join the Army and the Army wants them because they don't have other black marks against them like obesity or a bad criminal record, who can't get in because they score too low. Add in high school dropouts, and, overall, the military sets the minimum score for the heavily g-loaded AFQT (the very IQ-like test featured in The Bell Curve) for enlistment at the 31st percentile.
The study, released exclusively to The Associated Press on Tuesday, comes on top of Pentagon data that shows 75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don't qualify for the military because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn't graduate high school.
Perhaps this is right, but I suspect that to get to 75%, they are simply summing the percent disqualified for each of those reasons and ignoring the overlaps: e.g., kids who are fat, dumb, and crooked get counted three times, not once. Hopefully, I'm right that the Youth of Today aren't quite that bad, but, maybe I'm just a cockeyed optimist ...
"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," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the AP. "I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America's underperforming education system."
... This is the first time ever that the U.S. Army has released this test data publicly, said Amy Wilkins with The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based children's advocacy group. She said the organization worked with the U.S. Army to get raw data on test takers from the past five years.

... The Education Trust study shows wide disparities in scores among white and minority students. Nearly 40 percent of black students and 30 percent of Hispanics don't pass, compared to 16 percent of whites.

The funny thing is that racial gap isn't as bad as La Griffe du Lion's Fundamental Constant of Sociology. Probably due to self-selection and range restriction, the black-white gap is less than one standard deviation here. But, the authors of the report and the AP don't notice that the Army represents a below-average sized problem because we aren't supposed to know about the Fundamental Constant.
Even those passing muster on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, usually aren't getting scores high enough to snag the best jobs.
The AP article is a little confused about a tricky aspect of the military's admission test. The AFQT is, last I checked, a highly g-loaded four-test subset of the the ten test ASVAB. You must score at the 31st percentile or above on the AFQT (roughly a 92 IQ). Once you do that, they look at your ASVAB scores, which includes tests of things like auto repair, for help in determining vocational specialties.
"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," said Kati Haycock, president of the Washington-based Education Trust. "The military doesn't think that way."
Christina Theokas, the author of the study, said the test was updated in 2004 to reflect the current needs of the Army, and the Army didn't want to release data from before the realignment.

Recruits must score at least in the 31st percentile on the first stage of the three-hour test to get into the Army or the Marines. Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard recruits must have higher scores.

From the Education Trust's report, Shut Out of the Military:
Table 1: Enlistment Eligibility 2010

The minimum AFQT score required to qualify for entry into the

military varies by branch.

Service Branch Minimum Required AFQT Score

Army 31 [i.e., 31st percentile]

Navy 35

Marines 32

Air Force 40

Coast Guard 45

... For the Army, those who score at the AFQT level of 31 and higher—Category IIIB and above—qualify for enlistment. Those scoring at 50 and higher on the AFQT [i.e. 100 IQ], falling into Categories IIIA and above, are eligible for Army

incentive programs including enlistment bonuses, college repayment programs, and the Army College Fund (a monetary incentive that increases the value of G.I. Bill benefits).  ...

Recruits that rank at the highest AFQT levels are eligible for special opportunities. While most military jobs are tied to the kind of composite scores described above, certain elite categories are available only to those who also possess an especially high AFQT. For instance, jobs in technical fields require significantly higher AFQT scores than the minimum score needed for regular enlistment. These high level jobs, because they come with education, training, and skills development, open doors to high-level career paths, provide better active-duty experience and pay, and set up enlisted personnel for greater success following life in the service.
You can see the source at Military.com here.  The Education Trust report continues:
Our sample consists of the nearly 350,000 high school graduates aged 17-20 who applied for entry into the Army between 2004 and 2009 and took the ASVAB at a Military Entrance Processing Station. These young people are among the 25 percent of young Americans who do not have problems preventing them from applying for enlistment in the military. Approximately 50 percent of these applicants, a total of 172,776, joined the Army. The group is not representative of individuals across or within states and the nation, but is a self-selected sample of individuals aged 17-20, with a high school diploma,

and an interest in joining the Army. We chose only to examine the results of recent high school graduates to have a sample of individuals who had experienced similar high school requirements and standards. ... In the sample, 58 percent of the test-takers were white, 19 percent African-American, 12 percent Hispanic, 8 percent unknown, 1 percent each of Asian, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander, while 76 percent were male and 24 percent female.

About 23 percent of the test-takers in our sample failed to achieve a 31 —the qualifying score—on the AFQT. Among white test-takers, 16 percent scored below the minimum score required by the Army. For Hispanic candidates, the rate of ineligibility was 29 percent. And for African-American youth, it was 39 percent.

That's the IQ ineligibility rate among non-obese, non-crooked, high school graduates who want to join the Army.

The AP story goes on:

The average score for blacks [in this self-selected sample of high school graduates wanting to join the Army] is 38[th percentile] and for Hispanics is 44, compared to whites' average score of 55. The scores reflect the similar racial gaps on other standardized exams.
Actually, these are pretty narrow for racial gaps. All the other filters reduce the variation. Moreover, there's now a multi-generation tradition of lower middle class blacks enlisting in the Army (as opposed to the other branches).

The Education Trust report goes on to complain that:

To qualify for specific occupational specialties, recruits must earn certain scores in nine different Army aptitude areas. For example, to qualify for any of the Special Forces positions, a recruit must earn a score of 110 on the General Technical composite score, which is a weighted average of Arithmetic and Verbal Expression. Approximately 66 percent of applicants did not meet this minimum score. However, nearly 86 percent of African-American applicants and 79 percent of Hispanic potential recruits did not meet the minimum for these specialties, as compared to 60 percent of white potential recruits.
But, once again, these are narrower racial gaps than are found in the overall population.

The Associated Press article suffers from one obvious mistake:

The study also found disparities across states, with Wyoming having the lowest passage rate, at 13 percent, and Hawaii having the highest, at 38.3 percent.
No, this sentence is a typo in the AP news story that gets the meaning 180 degrees wrong. Figure 2 in the Education Trust report is entitled "AFQT Ineligibility Rates by State." The worst failure rate is in Hawaii (followed by MS, DC, LA, SC, NM) and the least bad failure rate is in Wyoming (followed by IN, ID, NE, NH, MN).

More interesting numbers from the report's state tables:

Among white youths with high school diplomas applying to join the Army, the lowest failure rates were in Indiana (10.1%), Alaska, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Among whites, the highest failure rate was, by far, in Maryland (27%). Next was DC, then Kentucky. The high failure rates for whites in liberal MD/DC is probably due to the military being seen by MD/DC as a good place to dump the dud in the family.

Best performances by blacks were in Oregon, Arizona, Alaska, (all small sample sizes), Indiana and New York. Worst performances by blacks were in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin.

Best performances by Hispanics were in small sample size states like Montana, Alaska and Indiana. Worst performances by Hispanics were in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Texas's Hispanics did slightly better than California's.