Our Graduation Requirements Are Doing a Disservice to Students Who Want to Serve in the Military

For the most part, state legislators and the Department of Education have maintained high standards for students in Colorado by requiring students to meet a variety of graduation requirements and benchmarks that prove they’re ready for success in college and career.

But, are we challenging students who want to go into the armed forces with the same rigor as those who opt for college? According to The Education Trust’s study, Shut Out of the Military, “Our high schools are undermining the preparedness of too many of the young people who seek to serve their nation, leaving our country—and our youth—in harm’s way.”

It’s time for this to change.

We spend millions of dollars on programming and testing to ensure our students walk across the stage with a diploma that signifies they are ready to contribute to society. The state has outlined a list of measures that districts can use to show that their students are ready to graduate from high school. It includes everything from ACT/SAT scores to concurrent enrollment and even capstone projects. The state suggests that if a student can meet a minimum standard in at least one area, they’re ready for the challenges and opportunities of college and the workforce. But for that to be true, the bar must be set appropriately for each measure of success, and I fear the bar has been set too low for students who plan to enter the armed forces after graduation. This represents an egregious oversight on the part of policy makers.

Located at the very bottom of the state’s list of college and career-ready credentials is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. The state suggests that for students to be eligible for the armed forces, they must achieve a score of 31 in English and 31 in Math, along with meeting other standards of physical and personal conduct. Each branch of the military also has its own minimum score requirements noted below.

For added context, a score of 31 on the ASVAB equates to a 15 on the ACT. And yet, the state says that a student must score at least an 18 on the ACT to be college and career ready. If we want the students to perform at a level equivalent to the cut score of 18 for the ACT, I propose that the Colorado Department of Education establish a minimum score of 40 for the ASVAB.

Based on a student’s score, they are placed into one of five scoring categories.

I served in the Navy for four years (1986–90) and while I don’t remember my exact ASVAB score, I do remember my score placed me in the second level, which allowed me to consider service roles in the area of aviation administration, among others. While I was in boot camp, ASVAB scores were often shared and discussed, and I discovered that recruits’ scores impacted the type of job they had after basic training. A minimum score of 31 simply means that a student has met the requirements to enlist. It could limit students’ eligibility for enlistment bonuses, college repayment programs and could prevent them from seeking military service options that lead to rich learning experiences, broader service-oriented career paths and upward career mobility.

Raising the ASVAB minimum score to 40 would not only establish a higher expectation; it would also convey to our community the value that our state education leaders place on our armed forces and the students who choose to serve in them.

I appreciate the vision of the Colorado State Board of Education which is that “All children in Colorado will become educated and productive citizens.” With its mission to provide all of Colorado’s children equal access to quality, well-rounded educational opportunities, we should be aiming higher for all Colorado students. Increasing the ASVAB minimum score from 31 to 40 better reflects our value of having high expectations for all our students.


Ronald Fay is the principal of Rangeview High School in Aurora. He is also a doctoral candidate, in the Mid-Career Educational & Organizational Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania.


Photo Credit: Military.com

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