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Army Basic-Skills Program Said Failing

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Washington--A five-year-old remedial-education program for Army recruits has largely failed to help soldiers improve their basic skills in reading and mathematics, and it has inadequately linked basic-skills objectives to job performance in the Army, according to a report by the General Accounting Office (gao).

The Basic Skills Education Program--which has cost $160 million since it began in 1979--was designed to provide remedial training to Army recruits with reading and mathematics abilities below the 9th-grade level.

Number of Recruits Growing

The number of such recruits has been growing. In 1975, 10 percent of the Army's recruits were in this category. By 1981, 45 percent--or over 305,000--of the Army's enlisted men had reading and mathematics abilities below the 9th-grade level, the report said. The recruits' reading and mathematics abilities often range as low as the 4th-grade level, it said.

The program's courses generally consist of 50 to 240 hours of instruction and last from 3 to 12 weeks.

The gao, the investigatory agency of the Congress, concluded that only "a small percentage of soldiers have achieved the Army's prescribed goals" in the program.

Among the several findings of the gao report:

The Army is spending millions each year on the program, without having adequately determined the level of basic skills actually required for each military job.

The Army has not evaluated the program's effectiveness.

The program's success rates are low. The gao report says that only a small number of soldiers who are enrolled successfully complete the program.

Studies show that short-term remedial programs, such as the Army's, do not provide the competence needed to master highly technical materials in many Army jobs, and that substantial resources would be required to bridge the literacy gap.

The report recommended that the Army identify the basic skills required for each military job, determine whether such skills are attainable with the Army's time and resources, and, if so, revise the program to provide training for those skills.

Until such changes are made, the gao recommended that all contracts for basic-skills education at military installations be "deferred."--ah

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