Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Test Mess

The Air Force has wrapped up it's investigation over a bunch of cheating within the nuclear officer's at several northern tier bases.  Right now.....thirty-four officers are accused of "cheating".  It's a curious episode.

From the group of thirty-four.....some of them never actually cheated with the testing business....but they knew others who did and just looked the other way.  The Air Force doesn't like that type of behavior and will punish them.....even if they didn't cheat with the tests.

The testing business?  Well....this is the other curious piece to the entire story.

Nuclear officer business....is rather complicated, filled with key-words, and not an occupation that anyone is thrilled with or desires.  The Air Force for the past fifty-odd years has invented an amusing process.  If you "volunteer" to be a nuclear officer.....they give you a leg up on your next career move in four to five years.  That might be a juicy assignment to Florida, a key job which gets you promoted early, or a masters-degree program which makes your resume extremely valuable after retirement.

I sat and watched several intelligence officers get talked into doing a four-year tour in the nuclear field.  Each questioned it, and were fairly negative.  Then came the enticements.

A guy enters the Air Force as an officer with a bachelors degree.  If you want to get after a masters or PhD.....you do it on your own time.  Well....the Air Force says....since there's only two or three hours of real work in the nuclear bunker during a shift.....you can devote the rest of your time to your educational process.  This means a guy could bring in his books....his college thesis....and spend eighty hours a month on his degree.

In two years....you could easily finish up a masters degree.  Add in another two years.....maybe even a PhD.

Beyond that, it's a long and boring job with no satisfaction.

Making it tougher?  Oh yeah.....there's all these key terms, codes, and paperwork requirements.  Naturally, you have to enter a class in the beginning to learn these, and then there's a certification test.  You do this test every year usually....to certify yourself.

Up until the late 1980s....tests were simplified and not terribly difficult to grasp the right answer.  I came to realize around 1991.....some officers were gearing various tests, for both the officer and enlisted fields.....to be substantially tougher.  Just two or three hours of studying....wouldn't work under this new concept.

I worked for an Air Force officer preparing a quiz which was part of an intelligence certification.  She had a hundred questions that were written out on paper....and I needed to input them onto a computer.  I went through the quiz, and had to admit that half of the questions were indepth and complex.  At least fifty percent of the questions were written in a way to be intentionally confusing....I even made that comment to the officer and tried to persuade them to be clearer in the statement....to no avail.

I suspect over the past two decades....these "test-masters" have wandered around the Air Force, and made it their life goal to turn simplified tasks into complex testing situations.  This episode with the nuclear officers?  I'd take a strong guess that these officers felt immense pressure, and could not see themselves failing.  So they went to plan B.  Unethical?  Yeah.....but if your choice is failure or being unethical....then you make the right choice.

What the Air Force says....is that they will force the entire lot of six hundred-odd nuclear officers to retake the certification test.  A new test, of course.  Possible failure on a fair scale?  I would anticipate it.  It'll take a number of weeks, and eventually....some general will be asked to sit in a room while a couple of officers want to explain to him that a twenty-five percent failure (my guess) has occurred with these officers.  They can't understand why.  The general will blast them.....you have to know why or you shouldn't be in front of me.

So new tests will be devised.....study groups will be mandated (then dissolved because that's cheating in a way).....and some folks will be pulling double shifts because there's not enough certified nuclear officers around.

A comical mess?  Yes.  I'm guessing Army officers kid the Air Force officers on a daily basis with this whole routine.  And I doubt that this ever ends....we will simply go into cheating version 2.0, or 3.0, and find ways to call it something else....other than cheating.

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