No Virginia, 23% of high school students did NOT fail Army entrance test

by David Safier

Nominations are still open for the worst Star headline of the year. The Creative Headline Writing Team is  burning the midnight oil, working right up to the December 31 deadline to create new, awful headlines.

This one is a humdinger:

23% of high school grads fail Army entrance test

Wow. You mean to tell me, one in four people who graduate high school can't score high enough on the Army entrance exam to get in?

Actually, no. But of those high school grads who take the Army entrance exam, 23% fail.

Big difference. Big, big difference.

How far did the headline writers have to go to find out the test wasn't administered to all grads? Words 6 through 13 of the article:

. . . students who try to join the U.S. Army . . .

Here's the entire first sentence:

Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can't answer basic math, science and reading questions, according to a new study released Tuesday. [boldface added]

To get an idea of what that percentage says about our educational system, we need to know answers to questions like: What percentage of grads take the exam? What were their GPAs in high school? How does the number of failures compare to years past?

The article doesn't answer those questions, because the study it's based on doesn't either. According to the study, the people who took the Army entrance test

is a self-selected sample of individuals aged 17-20, with a high school diploma, and an interest in joining the Army.

The study is clear about its limits. The AP article is reasonably clear as well. But the Star headline writers, for whatever reason — poor reading skills, the need to write eye-grabbing headlines, a general animus toward public education (with a regular emphasis on trashing TUSD) — distort the article with a headline that doesn't even qualify for the term, "misleading." It's flat out wrong.

By the way, the original AP headline is:

Nearly 1 in 4 fails military exam

That headline is open-ended enough to be accurate. The Star's headline? Not so much.

NOTE: The Star's editorial is about this study. The headline reads:

Many US youths unqualified as military recruits

That's a fine, accurate headline. How is it that the Opinion section has a more accurate, less opinionated headline than the News section? It almost makes you wonder if the News section has a hidden agenda. Hmmm.

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