Marching toward the 21st Century: Military Manpower and Recruiting

By Mark J. Eitelberg; Stephen L. Mehay | Go to book overview

5
Test Score Trends and the Recruit
Quality Queue

Linda L. Kageff and Janice H. Laurence

Few would argue the fact that today's soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen truly are among the "best and the brightest." However, the continuation of such boastful claims depends upon the interaction of many factors, including numerical requirements, market conditions, and the characteristics of the personnel pool. Though the military is undergoing a period of sweeping change, including a streamlining of the force and a consolidation of jobs, personnel quality issues remain important. Demographic shifts (e.g., youth scarcity and the growth of women and minorities in the work force) together with concerns that the nation's human resources are being depleted are foreboding even for a smaller yet more complex and technologically sophisticated military. Thus, cognitive ability gets added to the mix of considerations that face those concerned with future military manpower needs.

It is often the case that people who enlist have no specialized training beyond high school, so the military is their first "real" job. Without previous job performance data, monitoring the level of cognitive ability within the youth population provides useful input into recruiting policy and practice. Because over 40 years of research has shown that an individual's level of aptitude is strongly related to his or her military training success and job performance, the armed forces have made cognitive aptitude the single-most important determinant of who gets into the military and who does not. Therefore, recruiting strategy and results depend upon knowledge of the qualifications of the available pool. One source for this knowledge is the ability profiles of students in the upper grades of high school. Both test scores and the real capabilities of students in these grades are important to recruiters, because it is this group of youth that will eventually be tapped for military service.

Trends in the measured ability of American youth form the focus of this chapter. Scores from three widely used aptitude tests are presented along with student achievement measures from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. These dates were chosen to determine whether there has been a sustained rise in test scores from a previously documented decline throughout the 1970s. 1 Earlier evidence suggested that the decline had begun to reverse itself, and that American schools might be at last moving toward the capability for turning out scholars who

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