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OP-ED | Student Privacy and the Military in Connecticut

by | Apr 21, 2014 10:03am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Opinion, Transparency

I’m dumfounded witnessing the influence apparently wielded by the military in Connecticut’s General Assembly. Its influence runs counter to the sensibilities and civil liberties of the citizens of the Constitution State. Apparently the Department of Defense has such clout few have the courage or political will to oppose it. This is not what democracy looks like.

On Thursday SB 423, “An Act Concerning Student Privacy and the Administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery” was allegedly referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for legislative death. Apparently, committee members have “serious reservations” regarding the bill. How odd it is that legislation designed to protect the privacy of Connecticut High School children should be re-routed through the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs!

A child can go to school in Connecticut, be tested by the Pentagon, and have test results, detailed demographic information and social security numbers released to recruiters without parental consent or knowledge.

Information gathered as a result of the administration of the ASVAB is the only information leaving Connecticut’s schools about children without providing for parental consent. SB 423 would change that. The members of the Education Committee overwhelmingly thought it was a good bill, but some members of the veteran’s Committee have serious reservations. How does this work, exactly?

The ASVAB is the military’s entrance exam that is given to fresh recruits to determine their aptitude for various military occupations. The test is also used as a recruiting tool in 106 high schools in Connecticut and nearly 12,000 across the country. The three-hour test is used by the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command to gain sensitive, personal information on 3,750 Connecticut kids and 660,000 high school students across the country every year, the vast majority of whom are under the age of 18.

According to military regulations the primary purpose of the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Batter) is to provide military recruiters “with a source of leads of high school juniors and seniors.” Nothing in the records of the Connecticut State Department of Education or any of the public schools in Connecticut officially recognizes this fact. Instead, the DoD markets the test as a “Career Exploration Program.”

The Pentagon uses the exam to gather a treasure-trove of information to use in an astoundingly sophisticated recruiting program. The ASVAB allows the military access to a child’s cognitive abilities, something the recruiting command can’t purchase or find online. A child’s social and intellectual dimensions are combined to create a precise, virtual portrait. After the test is administered military representatives typically meet with youth at school to discuss their scores and suggest career paths. Later, recruiters make calls to the students, using the sophisticated individualized profiles.

Nothing in this legislation will preclude the military from continuing to administer the test in the high schools for enlistment purposes. This act will simply require a student who wishes to use his or her scores for enlistment to visit a recruiter who will complete a form and have the student (or parent) sign it. That’s all it does. The bill prohibits the wholesale release of student records.

When Maryland passed a bill like SB 423 that state’s top recruiter argued that the military command — rather than parents — should make decisions regarding the release of student information. The same has happened in Connecticut. In written testimony Lt. Colonel Michael D. Coleman, Commander, U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Albany also took the position that his command — rather than mom and dad — should decide on the release of student information.

Lt. Col. Coleman writes that passage of the bill will cause children to lose the opportunity to benefit from the ASVAB Career Exploration Program. It will not.

We don’t have a problem with the use of the test in the state’s schools and we agree with Lt. Col. Coleman that students benefit from test results and participation in the Career Exploration Program. Students, however, still benefit from the program when parental consent is enforced. It should be noted that both Hawaii and Maryland, two states that mandate parental consent, have experienced a growth in the numbers of students participating in the ASVAB since mandating parental consent.

If the measure fails here it doesn’t stand much of a chance anywhere else. And that does not speak well for the health of our democracy.

Why does society give the military a pass? We wouldn’t tolerate similar invasions of privacy if they occurred at the hands of, say, the Department of Transportation or the IRS. Shouldn’t we expect the DoD to function by the rules in a transparent and democratic society?

Pat Elder is the director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy.

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(21) Archived Comments

posted by: GBear423 | April 21, 2014  11:41am


This Bill is creating an unecessary hurdle in what is a voluntary test. High School Juniors and Seniors are *asked* to take the test. There is no mandate. The purpose is for joining the military! If you don’t want to be recruited by the armed forces don’t take the test. It is strictly used for recruitment purposes and seeing where a candidate is best placed, you don’t want brilliant people as cooks, and you don’t want idiots in naval nuclear fields.

posted by: Skerin | April 21, 2014  1:09pm

Actually the way the test is marketed, parents don’t even know that is what the ASVAB is about. The letter sent home to my son was very deceptive and made it seem like it was a general career aptitude test. In fact 163 kids took the test at Bristol Eastern HS because they were encouraged to take a “Career Exploration Test.”  All of their data was sent to recruiters without parental consent.

This law would help parents have more control. Especially with cell phones, kids are getting follow up contacts with recruiters behind the parents back (I know several parents that have had this as an issue).

What is wrong with parents being the guardians of the data for their underage children? When did such a thing become an “unnecessary hurdle.”  When an entity starts trying to circumvent the parent, red flags should go off and alarms should sound.

posted by: Matt from CT | April 21, 2014  1:16pm

Oh Google, you do what the job editors should do:

“Please take some time to look through the new website of the new National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy: www.studentprivacy.org

I’ve just joined the board because I believe a great deal of good can be done.

The National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy is a one-trick pony and that trick is the ASVAB Campaign. In short, we call for the universal selection of Option 8 for students taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB in high schools across the country, thereby prohibiting the automatic release of test data to military recruiting services.”

It is hard to take seriously, and even harder, to give credibility to a group who hides behind nice-sounding names.

Information as I posted above should be posted by editors so readers can understand the source of the opinion they’re reading, especially when those pieces are nefarious in their use of “marketing-tested” catch phrases to hide their true desires.

They don’t care about student privacy on iota, except as a means to an end of attacking the U.S. military and it’s ability to recruit people to serve the nation.

posted by: hanningke | April 21, 2014  2:07pm

This bill is a conservative measure, in that it does not challenge the legitimacy of the military’s administration of the ASVAB. As Pat Elder writes above,  the bill “will simply require a student who wishes to use his or her scores for enlistment to visit a recruiter who will complete a form and have the student (or parent) sign it”. ASVAB results are the only info leaving CT schools about students without parental consent. Why should we allow school administrators and military recruiters, and not parents and students, to be the arbiters over how sensitive student information is used?

posted by: Bluecoat | April 21, 2014  3:14pm

according to the Cheshire Mom, some in the Legislature are getting the message:
“As a point of record, it is clear that third parties, under the loosening of FERPA, which was sanctioned by the United States Department of Education, does allow for a third party to view sensitive information…  This is rather an unprecedented expansion of data collection.”

  ~ Connecticut State Representative Marilyn Guiliano,
    Education Committee Member

posted by: krh | April 21, 2014  3:19pm

This bill seems like commonsense legislation to me. I don’t see why people would have a problem with it at all. We should be respecting the privacy rights of students, and this bill would help ensure that we do.

posted by: Bluecoat | April 21, 2014  3:22pm

Does the State of CT really need this Department?
This is a bunch of hogwash.
How much State Taxpayer money is being used for this?
CT News Junkie on this?

posted by: GBear423 | April 21, 2014  3:35pm


Sure lets:
Legislate (SPEND) a required form (SPEND) for Recruiters and Parents to sign and file (SPEND), process (SPEND), and maintain (SPEND).
use common sense and get that when the test says ARMED SERVICES VOCATIONAL APTITUDE BATTERY on the cover it may have something to do with the ARMED SERVICES?

I think there are a lot of cooks here…

posted by: Bluecoat | April 21, 2014  3:46pm

Hey Matt from CT,
Yeah, Google is great ....

posted by: Bluecoat | April 21, 2014  3:48pm

“Why does society give the military a pass? We wouldn’t tolerate similar invasions of privacy if they occurred at the hands of, say, the Department of Transportation or the IRS. Shouldn’t we expect the DoD to function by the rules in a transparent and democratic society?”

So why would we tolerate the invasion of privacy by the Federal Department of Education?
Or the State of CT Dept. of Education? Hmmmmmm?

posted by: nutmeg_libertar | April 21, 2014  4:11pm

GBear423: the relevant forms already exist. Implementing this bill would cost nothing. 

Also, as Skerin noted, the military connection to the test is played down all the time. Just visit http://www.asvabprogram.com/ and you’ll see what I mean ...

Finally, oftentimes there IS a mandate. East Granby High,  for example, “strongly encourages” their juniors to take the test. In other states (like New York) dozens of schools make the test mandatory for their juniors ...

I hope this demonstrates that the bill is necessary to ensure a state-wide standard on ASVAB testing and student privacy.

posted by: ASTANVET | April 21, 2014  5:12pm

You know, I notice a lot of OP-ED’s are written by Presidents and CEO’s of “non profits” about issues that bring money and resources to their “non-profit” organizations.  It seems that the way to get ahead in today’s economy is to start a non-profit raise money, and a stink - give yourself a HUGE salary (way more than my active duty military salary) - and keep churning the political stew.  Don’t think i’m only hitting this author because i’m a military member, and a veteran… just check out wounded warrior project and the insane salaries they have given themselves on the backs of our nations wounded… all these “non-profits” who do not provide a service (i.e. residential living facilities, or privatized state services) are a con pure and simple.  They make a living out of whining.  Go pat yourself on the back for not being able to read what the ASVAB is.  That is not about student privacy, that is just the age old ‘someone else is to blame for things i dont like’ mentality my 12 year old says things like “there should be a law about that”.  Congrats, you’re operating at a 12 year old level.  Good job on writing a piece that is purely self serving.

posted by: Matt from CT | April 21, 2014  7:32pm

>I hope this demonstrates
>that the bill is necessary
>to ensure a state-wide
>standard on ASVAB testing
>and student privacy.

When did “state-wide” (or national) standards become so important?

Is this not an issue easily addressed with your own local school board?

Anyone who doesn’t understand what the ASVAB is…doesn’t read.  It’s deliberate ignorance to not know what the test is.

And the whole “student privacy” claim on this issue? 

I maintain it’s hogwash and whenever you see groups against one thing but taking a much more benign sounding name I’m reminded of this quote:

“When I was a boy, we used, in order to draw oft’ the harriers from the trail of a hare that we had set down as our own private property, get to her haunt early in the morning, and drag a red-herring, tied to a string, four or five miles over hedges and ditches, across fields and through coppices, till we got to a point, whence we were pretty sure the hunters would not return to the spot where they had thrown off; and, though I would, by no means, be understood, as comparing the editors and proprietors of the London daily press to animals half so sagacious and so faithful as hounds, I cannot help thinking, that, in the case to which we are referring, they must have been misled, at first, by some political deceiver.”—William Cobbet, 1807

posted by: bgharris | April 21, 2014  10:48pm

The ASVAB test may prove useful to students and help to focus on goals and careers, but there is no reason to provide this information to military recruiters. Permitting such release to recruiters is unacceptable.  If the test is truly a Career Exploration Program, then only parents and students working with a guidance counselor should review the data. All future decisions are in their hands.

To simplify and clarify the ASVAB procedures and to ensure students privacy rights are protected, the CT General Assembly should enact SB423 mandating release Option 8 for each student taking the ASVAB test.  No extra opt-out paper work and no military recruiter follow-up without student/parent consent.
The ASVAB will again be administered in many high schools in the fall. The timely passage of SB423 will ensure that the privacy rights of all CT students are respected and safeguarded.

posted by: GBear423 | April 22, 2014  6:51am


Nutmeg, i was a kid in Alabama when I took the ASVAB.  there was about 20 of us that took it. The other 340 kids in my class chose not to take it cause they didn’t want to. Its not mandatory in the South, it sure as heck can’t be mandatory anywhere else.

Read the Bill, there are costs associated with everything, nothing is free bud.

posted by: krh | April 22, 2014  9:23am

I suppose those trying to argue against this bill can continue try to deflect the argument away from the topic at hand if they wish, but that doesn’t change the fact that as it is commonly administered, the ASVAB purposely circumvents privacy protections.

SB423 would elegantly close this loophole while still offering those kids who may be interested the opportunity to use their results for enlistment purposes. It is a reasonable, common sense approach. SB423 should be enacted.

posted by: Christine Stuart | April 22, 2014  9:24am

Christine Stuart

The P20 Council was created by an executive order and I don’t believe any state money was used in its creation.

posted by: nutmeg_libertar | April 22, 2014  10:21am

GBear: not sure when you went to school, but according to the Pentagon’s own data there were 26 high schools in Alabama that “officially” made ASVAB mandatory during the ’12-’13 school year. But don’t take my word for it. Look at the data yourself at studentprivacy.org (from the home page, click on “State ASVAB data”).

Across the Cotton State, there were almost 20,000 students that took the test last year. (Only 3% of whom had their privacy protected). Common sense will tell you that you don’t get 20,000 antsy teens to sit through a 3-hour-long test without telling (at least some of) them that it’s mandatory.

Re: the costs of implementing SB 423 in Connecticut:
I have read the bill. (And so can you! At http://tinyurl.com/mjwqmmj) It passed a Fiscal Analysis earlier this month precisely BECAUSE they didn’t find any probable fiscal impact.

The issue of “additional costs” is a red herring in this debate. Simply put: there are none.

posted by: GBear423 | April 22, 2014  10:55am


What is so amusing aside from the clear departure of common sense; is that there is no concerns about all the data mining in the common core test regiment. 
Oh poor Johnny and Susie may want to serve their Country and we have to save them from that decision, but oh its no big if they take weeks of testing so corporate Education can make a profit…  /facepalm

posted by: krh | April 22, 2014  1:10pm

GBear: You are free to try to address Common Core if you feel it is a problem. You would probably find some support. But with that said, surely you don’t believe that a piece of legislation needs to address all possible problems that exist in order to be a decent piece of legislation, do you?

SB423 addresses one privacy concern in a reasonable and straight forward manner. Would it fix all of the world’s problems? No. But it is still a good piece of legislation.

posted by: GBear423 | April 22, 2014  2:27pm


Legislation costs money. The costs are there, time is a cost that can not be replenished.

How about create a Bill that makes the ASVAB strictly voluntary in Connecticut, end of debate. No stupid useless form, just make it policy that no child shall be compelled to take the ASVAB.

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