Best to get it said before the test- slayers take over the microphones: the results of standard military qualification tests, leaked to The Post over the weekend, contain a little encouragement, some embarrassment and a lot of ammunition.
>The encouragement lies in the revelation that the all-volunteer army does not consist primarily of idiots who are too dumb to find civilian jobs. In fact, the test, given to a broad sample of civilian men and women aged 18 to 23, demonstrated that armed forces recruits are "a cut above the average"--a little brighter in reading and math than their civilian counterparts.
The embarrassment is in the fact that black men and women did only about half as well as whites on the test, and also scored lower than Hispanics.
>That fact also comprises the ammunition: the sharpest argument available that the administration's assault on education and training programs is wrongheaded and dangerous.
Any day now, the testophobes will start pointing out the cultural bias of the test. It would be surprising, in fact, if there weren't at least some demonstrable bias. But that isn't the point. Nor is the suggestion (also sure to be made) that the results constitute proof of the genetic inferiority of blacks.
>Ask any black man or woman you see what the test reveals and the answers are likely to focus not on bias or native intelligence but on the shamefully poor education of black children, in school and out, particularly in the big cities. Some blacks may be embarrassed by the leaked data, but they won't be surprised. The results are hardly different from those produced by any test administered to large, random segments of the population.
The only difference is that this time there is a solid defense-based argument (the only argument that cuts any ice with the administration) for doing something about the education of young blacks.
>Paul B. Salmon, executive director of the Ammerican Association of School Administrators, already has joined the argument.
"The test results," he said Sunday, clearly demonstrate the "national interest" in education. "At the very time that President Reagan is advocating severe cutbacks in funds for education, the Department of Defense is demonstrating that it understands we cannot have a strong military force without a well-educated populace. . . . The need of this country for a viable defense and the behavior of the White House are incompatible. On the one hand, you have the president who is proposing a cut of more than 50 percent in Title I funds, and on the other hand you have a study from the Pentagon showing we must do a better job educating disadvantaged students."
>Nor is that the end of the inconsistency. Reagan is telling us that we must endure the immediate pain of his budgetary ax in order to protect our long-term economic interests. But nowhere is the connection between near- term sacrifice and long-term advantage clearer than in education.
"When you neglect education," Salmon said, "it has a delayed effect. For example, if you neglect the education of a 12-year-old today, you may not notice the full effect until that student emerges at age 18 as a worker, potential college student or military recruit."
Salmon, whose 18,000-member organization has a vested interest in the matter, argues for restoring the education cuts, particularly in Title I. The same facts argue for a much more thoroughgoing attack on maleducation.
When America saw itself slipping behind the Soviets in math and science, it was treated as a national emergency, and something was done about it. But those were white kids, and questions of genetic deficiency never arose. The assumption was that the kids could learn what we needed them to know if we would only get about teaching them.
>The same assumption ought to be made with regard to black children today. Instead of chopping funds for special education programs, we ought to be looking for ways to make them vastly more effective. And not just in the classrooms. We use the word "disadvantaged" so loosely that we've forgotten that it refers to something real. Children of low-income families do come to school with deficits--"disadvantages"--that make it difficult to educate them. And yet, instead of confronting those disadvantages head-on, and looking for effective ways of combating them, we spend most of our energy arguing for bigger budgets or more classroom integration.
>It would be worth all the embarrassment if Reagan would see last weekend's revelations as evidence of the need to declare black education a national emergency and undertake to do something to improve it.
It would do more for our national security than all the MX missiles the Pentagon planners can dream up.