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Lance T. Izumi - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

Lance Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in education policy and the author of several major PRI studies. [go to Izumi index]

How California Can Help Students Choose their Career...

[Lance T. Izumi] 5/4/05

Testing is critical in determining the academic preparedness of students entering higher education. For instance, the California State University uses placement exams to determine if students require remedial English or math in order to have the skills necessary to complete their coursework successfully. Yet, no test is used to determine the skill levels of the many more students who opt for vocational education at community colleges. There is a test, however, that can fill that void and it would be cost-free to students and colleges.

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is administered by the Department of Defense. The test is called an aptitude battery because it predicts one’s ability to learn skills for different kinds of work. The ASVAB tests general academic areas such as reading, math, and science, plus technical areas such as mechanical comprehension and electronics information. No items on military topics are included. The battery is based on extensive research on the effectiveness of different types of tests for predicting success in a wide range of jobs.

Based on results, a student could compare his or her skills with the requirements of the career or occupation in which he or she is interested. If a student is deficient in a skill area, the test informs the student of the additional training needed. Nationwide, 900,000 students at 14,000 schools take the ASVAB annually. The potential benefit of administering the ASVAB at community colleges is great.

Currently, community colleges use vocational tests, such as the Myers-Briggs exam, that merely measure a person’s interests and preferences, not their aptitude for a job or career. The ASVAB, therefore, would fill an important informational vacuum for students and counselors. It would give better career guidance to students and guarantee that they take the right coursework while in college.

The cost of the test is paid by the Defense Department. Students pay nothing, as opposed to Myers-Briggs and others that charge a fee, while local colleges and the state incur no administration costs. Some community colleges are beginning to look seriously at the ASVAB.

San Joaquin Delta College will be giving the ASVAB in the near future. Counselors there say a vocational education aptitude test is vitally needed. Few entering students know what they want to do. Many also have an unrealistic view of occupations and little idea of the skills actually needed for those jobs. Since the test is without cost, it helps open the job world to students of all incomes. And fears of the ASVAB’s military connection are baseless.

There’s also no obligation for any student who takes the test to enlist in the military. The military only asks for the opportunity to contact the student by telephone or mail about the option of a military career. If the student isn’t interested, there’s no further contact.

According to California's Legislative Analyst, “research shows very high wage returns to students who graduate from community college vocational programs.” The ASVAB can help students choose the career that is right for them, take the right courses, and graduate from a vocational program that makes their career a reality. Indeed, a major study on ASVAB concluded that the test contained “highly sensitive predictors of training and job performance for all applicant groups.”

The ASVAB should, therefore, be considered seriously in any future vocational education reform effort. CRO

copyright 2005 Pacific Research Institute



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