Issue Date: March 29, 2004

DoD officials to change grading scale for ASVAB

By Gordon Lubold
Times staff writer

Marine recruiters have a saying: “make mission, then go fishin’.” It means the sooner they fill their quota of recruits, the sooner they can take off the rest of the month and kick back.
Few recruiters ever really get to drop a line in the water, but a new Pentagon plan to tweak the enlistment entrance exam will make it even harder for recruiters to land their monthly quota of recruits.

Defense officials are changing the grading scale of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, beginning July 1 to reflect the fact that teenagers are, on average, better educated and more technologically advanced than they were when the exam was last revised in the 1980s.

But Marine recruiting officials fear the change could, potentially, disqualify as much as 10 percent of their pool of potential recruits. Teens may be more informed, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily meet the new, higher standard, officials said.

Defense officials consider the “renorming” of the exam a slight change, but poolees taking the test under the new norm likely will score two to four points lower than if they took the exam today.

That’s significant to Col. Warren J. Foersch, commanding officer of the 1st Marine Corps Recruiting District in Garden City, N.Y. He is pushing for the Defense Department to field-test the exam before implementing it.

“I think every district [commanding officer] is concerned about the renorming of the ASVAB and how it will affect them,” Foersch said.

“It’s just a bit tougher, and it’s gonna have to make life a little harder,” he said. “Marines are just going to have to analyze their data and go back to work, but it’s not insignificant.”

The exam, administered at Military Entrance Processing Stations, is used to help determine the aptitude of each poolee and helps recruiting officials place recruits in particular jobs. To control the quality of those entering the armed forces, the Defense Department requires that 60 percent of those taking the exam score 50 or higher out of a possible 99. The Corps’ own requirement, however, is that 63 percent score 50 or higher.

Changing the grading scale on the exam means more poolees’ scores will fall below that mark, known as “Category II,” forcing recruiters to look harder to find high-quality individuals to fill that category. Likewise, more poolees may score below 31, the cutoff for Category 3, Foersch said. Scores that fall below 31 require waivers that Corps officials rarely give.

Foersch, whose district recruits about 6,000 Marines each year and is considered one of the most successful in the Corps, said the new scoring will mean more than 500 poolees might not make the grade after the change goes into effect. That means his recruiters will have to look that much harder to find candidates who can perform better on the exam.

Under the Pentagon plan, scores of poolees who take the exam before July 1 will be good for two years, an official said.

Marine Corps Recruiting Command officials echo his sentiments. Overall, the Corps may lose significant numbers from each category.

Maj. Mark Ramirez, a policy officer at Recruiting Command, Quantico, Va., said Recruiting Command could see between eight and 10 percent of its potential recruits disqualified.

This year, the command’s mission is about 36,000 recruits, so as many as 3,600 people might not make the grade. That doesn’t necessarily mean the command won’t make its mission, but it will be much harder for recruiters.

“We’re cautious about what the impacts are going to be and if we’re going to meet the same standards,” Ramirez said.

Because retention among all services is high, recruiting goals have stayed relatively low, Ramirez said. As a result, the quality of Marine recruits, as well as those of other services, already is fairly high, he said.

Foersch said he understands the need to change the exam, but he is concerned that the new standard won’t undergo a test run.

“It really makes sense to renorm it, but one of the issues we have is that there has not been a test run, so we don’t really know how many people it will affect,” he said.

Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said officials announced the changes five months in advance in order to give commanders time to prepare for the change.

But there is another problem, according to Foersch.

Recruiters rely on a practice test, called the enlistment screening test, or EST, which they administer to poolees as an indicator of how they eventually will do on the ASVAB. Foersch said the EST has not been renormed, and therefore no longer will be an effective tool if the standard for the ASVAB is raised.

For that reason, he would like to see the EST revised before the planned ASVAB changes go into effect.

Campbell said recruiters will be given a table to convert the EST score to the renormed ASVAB score.

All of this likely spells more canvassing time for recruiters, who already have seen their average workweek expand from 60 hours to 70 hours since 1998.

Staff Sgt. Antonio Kitchens, a recruiter in Flushing, N.Y., didn’t know the Defense Department planned ASVAB changes but said he’s wary about having to look a little harder to find the same quality of recruits.

He said many of his poolees testing at MEPS already only squeak by with the minimum scores.

“By them moving it up, it’s gonna put a little more pressure on us,” he said. “A little unnecessary pressure for us.”

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