My Personal Experiences and Impressions of Assessment & the ASVAB

By, Erica Chrystal 2022

Me circa 1977, First grade school picture. Mom sewed that shirt - she has mad skills with that sewing machine!!

I grew up in Southern California, outside of San Diego, in Government Subsidized Housing (the politically correct term for “the projects”). Having been born in 1971, I attended school 1970s and 1980’s. To give you a snapshot of what my schooling was like – I was placed in the “gifted and talented” class in fifth-grade. The teacher would have us copy out of the dictionary for hours on end while he sat at the back of the room reading the newspaper. Every Friday we would take a vocabulary test. He was not an anomaly. By my sophomore year of High School, I had a car and figured out that the school didn’t really care if we showed up, so I started running the streets and spending the majority of my time at the beach which was actually safer (and much more fun) than being on campus navigating the gangs.

Assessment was viewed differently then and, in the schools I attended, most teachers didn’t pay much attention to us. No one was informing their instruction because instruction was basically non-existent. The tests we were given were solely to give a grade. My mom has reports of standardized tests that I took in elementary school but, they must not have been very important because I have zero recollection of taking them (see them here).

Two major things happened my senior year of High School. First, we had our one and only meeting with the guidance counselor, and secondly, the opportunity to take the SATs. When I told the counselor that I couldn’t afford the $80 for the SATs much less four years at a university his response was, “OK, you can return to class.” My name was checked off the list and I was sent on my way.

Fast forward to 1991, the United States was engaged in The Gulf War in Iraq. I was working two jobs and attempting to go to Community College. I had no clue how to study or be a successful student. Essentially, I was floundering at life and failing out of college. Meanwhile, United States citizens collectively chose to support the military rather than admonish them as they had during the Vietnam War. The military was being glorified, and for me, it was a way out of my crime infested neighborhood. Joining the military, for me, was akin to running away and joining the circus. After considering the Marine Corps, and deciding it wasn’t for me because I am horrible at pull ups, I settled on the Navy.

Every enlisted person must take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Test (ASVAB) which informs the trajectory of your service. A military member’s score on the ASVAB will determine the job they can choose, the clearance level they are eligible to apply for, and even whether or not you can be in a particular branch of the service (for example, the Navy requires a much higher score than the Army). The test consisted of math, vocabulary, comprehension, electronics, mechanics, history, and tool knowledge.

Chandler Christy’s “I Wish I Were a Man” recruiting poster 1917. Side note: I actually have this poster in my home office bought for me by a former partner teacher Rachel Douglas Swanson

I walked into the ASVAB with two strengths from my childhood – I loved to read because it was a great escape from the world outside our home and when I spent time with my father, he would make me assist him working in the garage with car engines and building stuff. The third thing I brought into the test was my mom’s admonishment about this crazy adventure I was embarking on, the only way she was going to let me go was if I chose a job that was a good “back up plan” – to her, that understandably meant secretarial work.

The recruiter was no longer interested in my goals, he wanted to push me towards the ranks of the Seabees which is the Construction Battalion (CBs – get it?) or an aviation engine mechanic.

Me and Mom, 2017. She has since forgiven me for running away to the Navy

Liberty weekend in Orlando Florida following bootcamp August 1991

Four hours later, I had finished the pencil and paper test (currently, the ASVAB is a computer-adaptive test). Two weeks after that, I had an appointment with the recruiter to go over my results. He was ecstatic with my score – 81. The portion that I scored highest on was the mechanical and tool knowledge. The recruiter was no longer interested in my wish to be a Yeoman (secretary), he wanted to push me towards the ranks of the Seabees which is the Construction Battalion (CBs – get it?) or an aviation engine mechanic. I’ve always an alliance, respect, and a healthy dose of fear when it comes to my mom, so I fought the recruiter tooth and nail to be a Yeoman – I didn’t want to upset her by leaving AND not honor her opinion (one disappointment at a time was all I wanted to put on her). The issue with this test was that it had the recruiter bent on a different set of skills than what I was focused on. I ended up being a great Yeoman, I worked with high-ranking officers, I had a very high security clearance, and I was awarded Sailor of the Quarter at my command my second year. I made rank quickly and my experience working mainly with officers (college graduates) steered me back towards college. The Navy taught me how to be organized, how to study, and how to be self-motivated. I still enjoy working on engines and building things but being a Yeoman saved my life.

The recruiter was doing his job in which he had quotas of jobs to fill. The issue is more with the test and how the military service, in general, views the results. The ASVAB pigeonholes recruits into basic job descriptions, security status eligibility, and even service branches. It does not give a complete picture of the person. It forces recruiters to become hyper-focused on one set of skills that match a quota rather than the path that the recruit sees for themselves or even their other attributes.

Having zero experience with high stakes tests prior to this, I walked into the ASVAB with no expectations. I walked out of the experience with a somewhat jaded view of testing but a positive view of myself. Some benefits that came out of the test – they wanted me because I had a score that was coveted which gave me more pull in deciding my job placement and I get to brag about my mechanical and tool knowledge. The detractors were having to fight to have them see me as more than just a quota for a job I didn’t want.

I’ve taken a few other standardized tests since then (all teaching related), but the ASVAB did the most to shape the person I am today and my views on what testing should and shouldn’t be. An assessment should give us information about strengths and room for growth without putting the person into a single view of their capabilities. In other words, just because a student scores well on the math portion of the Northwest Evaluation Assessment (NWEA) doesn’t mean that is where their interests lie, and it doesn’t mean they should be labeled as the “math genius” for the remainder of their school career. Maybe that kid really wants to be an illustrator or a hairdresser. Ultimately, assessments aren’t everything, they are a component of what we do as educators, however, we need to look at the whole person.

Me at the Military Women's Memorial in Washington D.C. 2012

Ultimately, assessments aren’t everything, they are a component of what we do as educators, however, we need to look at the whole person.

Out of my three children and six step-children, one has followed in my (and his father's) footsteps to the Navy... AND he is a SeaBee currently stationed in California and getting ready for his third deployment!

Me out on the lake fishing with my hubbie, 2017 I still wear my Navy stuff with pride!