Military Test Provides Career Guidance, Researchers Find

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Educators looking to prod high school students into thinking more deeply about career choices might take a cue from the military, according to researchers from the American Institutes for Research.

Investigators for the Washington think tank based their advice on a study of a testing program given by the military each year to about 1 million students.

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Career Exploration Program, or ASVAB, is primarily a recruitment and placement tool. But any student can take the two-hour test and fill out the accompanying survey to find out what occupations match his or her interests and abilities.

As a way of getting a foot in the door, military recruiters will even visit the school to help students interpret the results and to provide career information.

The AIR researchers evaluated the program during the 1994-95 school year for the U.S. Department of Defense's manpower data center.

What they found was that the program is an effective way to get students--many of whom receive little formal career counseling--to think hard about what they want to be when they grow up and what they need to do to get there.

"One might say high school students are in real need of career guidance, and this program really fills that need," said Roger Levine, who directed the portion of the study that focused on the program's impact on students. Other researchers looked at the program's effectiveness as a recruiting device.

'Career Maturity'

Mr. Levine and his colleagues presented their findings here last week during the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

As part of the study, the researchers surveyed 1,100 students in 48 high schools across the country at three points during their school careers: just before they took the tests, at the close of the semester in which they were tested, and again almost a year later, when most were seniors.

The students' responses were compared with those of students at 12 randomly chosen high schools where no ASVAB program was offered. The researchers also surveyed 300 guidance counselors to see if their responses matched up with those of the students.

"The bottom line story is that, after the test, kids who participated in ASVAB showed significant improvement in terms of their career maturity," Mr. Levine said. In other words, they were a little more certain about their career choices. Those students were more informed about the kinds of skills or preparation required for their chosen careers and were more likely to have talked with a school counselor or a military recruiter, for example.

"Usually a program effect dissipates hours, days, or weeks later," Mr. Levine added. "But a year later, when we looked at career-exploration behaviors, we found these effects were persistent, and there was the suggestion that they became more profound with the passage of time."

This was true, the researchers said, even after they took into account the fact that students were a year older and might naturally be more interested in deciding on a career path.

And the counselors confirmed that ASVAB students were indeed seeking out career advice in greater numbers.

Moreover, the program seemed to have the same effect on students regardless of their race, their gender, or whether they were enrolled in an academic track or a general education track.

"I was really shocked that I was able to demonstrate an effect so easily," Mr. Levine said.

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