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Nuclear Missile Command Drops Grades From Tests To Discourage Cheating

Soulskill posted about 3 months ago | from the D-for-darn-good dept.

The Military 122

An anonymous reader writes: Earlier this year, just over half of the military officers put in charge of U.S. nuclear launch facilities were implicated in an exam cheating scandal. The Air Force conducted regular exams to keep officers current on the protocols and skills required to operate some of the world's most dangerous weapons. But the way they graded the test caused problems. Anything below a 90% score was a fail, but the remaining 10% often dictated how a launch officer's career progressed. There might not be much functional difference between a 93% and a 95%, but the person scoring higher will get promoted disproportionately quicker. This inspired a ring of officers to cheat in order to meet the unrealistic expectations of the Air Force. Now, in an effort to clean up that Missile Wing, the Air Force is making the exams pass/fail. The officers still need to score 90% or higher (since it's important work with severe consequences for failure), but scores won't be recorded and used to compete for promotions anymore. The Air Force is also making an effort to replace or refurbish the aging equipment that runs these facilities.

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Not sure how well this will stop cheating (2)

robstout (2873439) | about 3 months ago | (#47565343)

You still need a 90% to pass. At least you no longer have folks clamoring for the top score.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (1)

Agares (1890982) | about 3 months ago | (#47565369)

I think it will help the issue some, but like you said it may still end up being a problem.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (5, Informative)

ERJ (600451) | about 3 months ago | (#47565373)

They had a story on the radio last night about this. The issue is that everyone (well, most everyone) was getting a passing grade. When they came in and gave an unexpected test the average score was 95%. The problem is that promotions were based on the grades. So, people were not cheating to pass but instead to be "perfect" in order to look better for promotion.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (5, Funny)

misexistentialist (1537887) | about 3 months ago | (#47565579)

Obviously promotions should go to the candidate who has launched the most missiles.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 3 months ago | (#47566109)

Based on what I've heard about the ICBM people, it should probably go to the candidate who can quote the most Bible passages [youtube.com] , preferably those of the "the end of world is nigh" kind.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47566665)

I would rather have that than the promotions going to the candidate who can quote the most Koran verses.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47566837)

Religous nuts are nuts regardles of what book they take their commands from. And I certainly have no trust in the christians doing it now. Religion is already the cause of the most wars. theists should be disqualified from these jobs simply because they put their god over their fellow people. they are a risk due to their mental attitude - and ofcourse they arent going to hold back when its a [other-religion] that is under fire.

Freedom of religion my ass. Where is my freedom from religion and its mind-fucked pawns hellbend on destruction of everything not right to their religion?

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47567473)

Remind me again of the religion of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Tojo, and Mussolini?

http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkil... [hawaii.edu]

You are a fascist tool (and I mean that in all senses of the word tool)...

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (1)

Wootery (1087023) | about 3 months ago | (#47567857)

Looks like you got your contrapositive all twisted up, there.

There are better ways to deal with trolls than by using obviously invalid reasoning.

The existence of murderous atheists doesn't disprove the suggestion that all theists are murderous. The existence of peaceable theists does, however.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (1)

Bodhammer (559311) | about 3 months ago | (#47568209)

Looks like you got your contrapositive all twisted up, there.

There are better ways to deal with trolls than by using obviously invalid reasoning.

The existence of murderous atheists doesn't disprove the suggestion that all theists are murderous. The existence of peaceable theists does, however.

And I certainly have no trust in the christians doing it now. ... mind-fucked pawns hellbend on destruction of everything not right to their religion?

The existence of murderous Christians doesn't disprove the suggestion that all Christians are murderous. The existence of peaceable Christians does, however.
TFTFY
BTW, there are a lot more murderous Islamist radicals than murderous Christians. Guess that was not the in the troll's talking points from his handlers...

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47568031)

Hitler "perceived the [Catholic] Church to be a blueprint for the totalitarian state he wished to create." http://catholicexchange.com/wa... [catholicexchange.com] so of course he wasn't Catholic because bad guys can't be Catholics.

Stalin was an atheist.

Mao was the leader of the cult of Mao, see also North Korean godkings.

Tojo was a Shintoist.

Mussolini was Catholic.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (1)

Bodhammer (559311) | about 3 months ago | (#47568221)

I don't remember a "Catholic State" , remind me again?

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (2)

Zeek40 (1017978) | about 3 months ago | (#47568801)

I don't remember a "Catholic State" , remind me again?

The Papal States [wikipedia.org] , Vatican City [wikipedia.org] , and arguably The Holy Roman Empire [wikipedia.org]

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47566697)

Extra marks for remembering the lyrics of "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)" by REM.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (2)

TWX (665546) | about 3 months ago | (#47565581)

If the average score was 95%, then wouldn't that mean that the general field of scores was falling somewhere in the 100%-90% range, possibly with disproportionately more above 95% to offset those falling below 90%?

Frankly, the danger is that we can't really know what the actual scores, without the pervasive cheating, would have been. There might well be 30% that passed that would have failed without cheating.

If over 50% of the participants were able to cheat, then it sounds like they need to work on their testing procedures in addition to their scoring metric. In this day and age it's not all that difficult to random-generate tests and source questions from sets so that one set may have 30 questions that apply to the same topic and three are randomly chosen; it means that for a 100 question tests there'd need to be probably a thousand questions grouped into sets, but if it's that important then it's not unrealistic to do the major work once and to maintain it properly from then on out.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 3 months ago | (#47567547)

In randomly given test to check exactly what you describe scores were into the 90%

The issue is about 1 or 2 percent difference in the 90 percentile.
While you test would work, it is much simpler to grab everyone you suspect of cheating, and give them a test under controlled conditions and see how they fair.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (1)

Wootery (1087023) | about 3 months ago | (#47567869)

under controlled conditions

So the original tests weren't under controlled conditions?

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 3 months ago | (#47567029)

The problem is that promotions were based on the grades. So, people were not cheating to pass but instead to be "perfect" in order to look better for promotion.

This is the key point that everyone seems to be missing in the discussions I've seen here and elsewhere on the 'net, so it bears emphasizing and repeating.
 
It's interesting that they've shifted to using simulator performance (which is virtually impossible to cheat in) for promotion eligibility... because their jobs are basically so damn simple it's going to be very hard to realistically rate one crew as being notably better than another. On reaction time maybe? Or "procedures theater" (I.E. making a great show of doing everything by the letter of the book)? Since, AIUI, they swap at the drawer level rather than the circuit card level it'll be hard to evaluate and their troubleshooting and corrective maintenance skills.
 
Disclaimer - BTDT on both sides of the instructors console and of the evaluators clipboard. In a former life I was a Fire Control Technician (Ballistic Missile), USN Submarine Service, USS Henry L. Stimson SSBN 655B and Trident Training Facility - Bangor.
 
In the graded half of Team Trainer, we were scored fairly simply: "Pass", "Pass with comments (I.E. needs specific improvements)*, and "Fail". (And basically the only ways to actually fail were to have a gross violation of procedures, violation of safety regulations, or the simple inability to launch birds.) You could fail individual countdowns, but so long as there wasn't a pattern of failure you could pass the week "with comments". Outright failures of a countdown were very uncommon, and outright failure of the week very rare.
 
I can see how they could assign grades to specific tasks or objectives to create a spectrum from the top of "Pass" to the bottom of "Pass with comments", but the problem there is it's all too easy for the instructor/evaluator to start shading towards being subjective in their evaluation.

*You could also get "style" comments, but these didn't lead to a "Pass with comments". Operating an FBM weapons systems was a complex task and no two crews did it exactly the same. We didn't push standardization to the level that the USAF did, so "style" comments were a way for the instructors and evaluators to pass on what they'd seen work or not work with other crews or to highlight potential problem areas.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 3 months ago | (#47567561)

"because their jobs are basically so damn simple it's going to be very hard to realistically rate one crew as being notably better than another. "
I was SAC, and that statement is laughable.

The truth hurts, not my problem. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 3 months ago | (#47568171)

I was SAC, and that statement is laughable.

I was USN SSBN missile systems and have talked with many SAC (Minuteman) launch crews over the years, and it's the dead simple truth. Your systems are much simpler than ours (even without figuring that we had sixteen tubes that we operated individually while you mostly just watched lights) and you didn't (couldn't) operate them or intervene in their operations to the level we did.

The examples of the complexities that you didn't have to deal with are legion (off the top of my head and in no particular order):

  • You had no pressurization system. (And even if you did you didn't have to wait for the ship to come to launch depth.)
  • Your optical alignment system was set by the loading crew rather than operating in sequence as ours did.
  • You had no navigation system interface to deal with as your tubes were fixed in position. (And equally, you didn't have to coordinate your countdown with the ship coming to launch speed or wait for the ship to commence hovering.)
  • You did not test the missiles in sequence the way we did. (And unlike us, you couldn't do anything about faults even if you did, the weapons were miles away and maintained by a different crew).

Etc... etc...
 
So yeah, the jobs of the prairie dogs waiting in their holes (which is the subject of this discussion) were (are) pretty dammed simple. You punch buttons and swap drawers. If a tube goes down, and it's not at your end, you're screwed because there's f all you can do about it except to wait for a repair crew to be dispatched. (The liquid fuel guys? Yeah, I'll agree they were the real deal. But they're long gone.)

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 3 months ago | (#47565763)

Well the issue of cheating wasn't really a full security risk, as most of the cheaters would have passed anyways. But with a 90% pass rate, the idea if you got a 90%-92% = D
93%-95% = C
96%-97% = B
98%-100% = A

I am sure most of you who have been threw academia, with percentages so close that any number of factors can fluctuate your score by a few percentage.
Too tired from a night of studying. Too Hungry, too full, having to go pee, Feeling too anxious or too confidant....

Now a lot of these people taking the test worried their promotion prospects are tied to these test scores, so if you have a C or B it will look bad, compared to the next guy who got an A. While the next guy might have just had a better day that day. So Cheating was rampant, not in the dangerous level where they wouldn't have passed the test, but in making sure everyone had that little extra to get promoted when the time comes.

Re:Not sure how well this will stop cheating (1)

Salgat (1098063) | about 3 months ago | (#47567419)

It makes it much more difficult, since cheating to get a few points is a lot different than cheating 10-20 points to pass. The end result is that cheating will have much less impact on the results.

time to bring in the... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565351)

WOPR

endless unclear war inevitable? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565403)

this reglue is not about that http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=kevin+arnett what's this about? http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=conscious+conscience+spirit call this 'weather'? http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=wmd+weather as we chant proactively http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mk9mV8qBiEk

Due to excessive bad posting from this IP or Subnet, anonymous comment posting has temporarily been disabled. You can still login to post. However, if bad posting continues from your IP or Subnet that privilege could be revoked as well. If it's you, consider this a chance to sit in the timeout corner or login and improve your posting. If it's someone else, this is a chance to hunt them down. (like textual predators?) If you think this is unfair, please email moderation@slashdot.org or sing a long time strong if you will http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ug7IgB8MfWE the language of the heart is practically foolproof... see you there...

The Air Force is also making an effort to replace (2)

Ronin Developer (67677) | about 3 months ago | (#47565419)

... or refurbish the aging equipment that runs these facilities.

Which equipment? The testing equipment, the launchers, missiles, terminators?

Re:The Air Force is also making an effort to repla (1)

Joe Gillian (3683399) | about 3 months ago | (#47565481)

In this case, probably the computer systems. They've been using the same stuff since the missile sites were first built, to the point where they're still using 5-inch floppies to transfer data.

Re:The Air Force is also making an effort to repla (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565753)

I hate to be nitpicking but I'd like to point out that they were not using 5 1/4" but 8" floppies!

Re:The Air Force is also making an effort to repla (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 3 months ago | (#47565787)

dial up or fixed analog phone lines?

Re:The Air Force is also making an effort to repla (1)

Isca (550291) | about 3 months ago | (#47565773)

Quite frankly this is what should give you nightmares.

I can almost guarantee whatever replaces it will not be as secure.

Re:The Air Force is also making an effort to repla (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47566149)

if it is an airgapped locked down unix, who cares? crypto signed usb that won't mount with locked and signed bootloaders.

relying on security through obsolescence is foolhardy.

Re:The Air Force is also making an effort to repla (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47566407)

Even if the existing system was only a few years old, that's years of testing that the new system doesn't have. If these floppies can still kill everyone as well as a USB can, then they aren't really obsolete.

Re:The Air Force is also making an effort to repla (1)

mpe (36238) | about 3 months ago | (#47566469)

Even if the existing system was only a few years old, that's years of testing that the new system doesn't have.

The ICBMs themselves date from 1970.

Re:The Air Force is also making an effort to repla (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 3 months ago | (#47567589)

That begs the question. Why do you assume they are currently secure?

That said, these system are typically engineered, that alone will make them have a high level of security.

Re:The Air Force is also making an effort to repla (1)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | about 3 months ago | (#47565847)

...the officers...

Sample Question (2)

PvtVoid (1252388) | about 3 months ago | (#47565439)

Q: What is the launch code for all U.S. Minuteman missiles?

A. 00000000 [arstechnica.com]

Re:Sample Question (4, Interesting)

geekoid (135745) | about 3 months ago | (#47565591)

I'll let you in on a secret.
Just having the code stopped the problem they created the code to fix. Since it fixed the problem, it makes sense for it to be an easy number. I suspect the rpesident will be under a little stress if he had to actually use it, so you want to minimize mistakes.

The security guy makes a classic security review mistake. Ignoring why and the practicality and the impact.

So that actual number is irrelevant, and no, you don't punch the code and then missiles launch.

Re:Sample Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47568141)

Which part of the fact that the code was always to be preset to 0000000 did you miss? Which problem does this solve? Is bureaucracy and safety now a problem?

Re:Sample Question (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 3 months ago | (#47566139)

Hey, that's the combination I had on my brand-new luggage before I changed it to 12345!

Re:Sample Question (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 3 months ago | (#47568017)

You use the present tense to describe a situation that ended 37 years ago? That's pretty odd.

Burglary... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565443)

<sarcasm>Is it a good thing or a bad thing when the burglary of a computer museum is likely to set off alarm bells at Langley and 935 Pennsylvania Avenue about somebody hijacking an ICBM silo and executing an unauthorized launch?</sarcasm>

Re:Burglary... (1)

TWX (665546) | about 3 months ago | (#47565685)

Or a burglary of any computer geek's residence that's been in this since the days of DOS 5.0...

I still have a couple of 5.25" floppy drives. I'm not proud of this, but I just can't quite bring myself to throw them away, just in case I need them. I still have a 3.5" floppy drive in a computer that I use regularly, and I still have my SCSI internal Zip Drive and my SCSI internal Jaz2 drive, though those aren't actually installed in anything running at the moment.

And my wife is still annoyed that her old Smith-Corona word processor's floppies are proprietary, and she has no way of reading some of the research papers she did in high school and college. We still have the media, but no word processor.

Re:Burglary... (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 3 months ago | (#47567299)

I hope you've imaged those floppies at the very least. It should be fairly straightforward to extract text out of an oddball format provided it's not actually encrypted in someway, but once those platters(?) demagnetize that data is gone for good.

Re:Burglary... (1)

TWX (665546) | about 3 months ago | (#47567927)

They're physically proprietary. They're smaller than 3.5" floppies.

Re:Burglary... (1)

Zarquon (1778) | about 3 months ago | (#47569041)

Some information on rebuilding a PWP. It's also the same the drive as used on the Famicon system in Japan.

http://www.cromwell-intl.com/t... [cromwell-intl.com]

There's a more active Famicon hacking scene around... you might look into a famicon drive and fdsloader.

http://www.tototek.com/phpBB2/... [tototek.com]

-R C

What partisan wrote this? (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 3 months ago | (#47565545)

"There might not be much functional difference between a 93% and a 95%, but the person scoring higher will get promoted disproportionately quicker."

This weasel language implies that it's not fair that someone that scores higher on the test gets promoted faster, and also implies that any promotion due to higher grades is "disproportionate," which is media-speak for "unfair."

"This inspired a ring of officers to cheat in order to meet the unrealistic expectations of the Air Force."

Why is it unrealistic that those in charge of launching missiles that will end life on this planet as we know it pass a very high bar of excellence?

Re:What partisan wrote this? (2)

geekoid (135745) | about 3 months ago | (#47565617)

No. the difference between 93 and 95 percent is irrelevant. This isn't someone getting 80% and someone else getting 95%.

You're looking hard for an issue that isn't hear. I was in SAC. You, OTOH, should probably read my sig.

Re:What partisan wrote this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565619)

if it's anything like US Army officers, i don't think those are permanent assignments. more like a 1-2 year tour of duty among a dozen other tours an officer will have.

so you are basing promotion on a paper test given for a job that no one will really have to do. just train for the possibility. where most other assignments there is real work to be done like plan training exercises, handle logistics for deployed units in a war zone, etc

Re:What partisan wrote this? (2)

dbrueck (1872018) | about 3 months ago | (#47565679)

Maybe, but I read it it slightly differently. 'Disproportionate' means 'too large or too small in comparison with something else'.

So I took it to mean that someone who got two percentage points higher on their test ended up being promoted at a much higher rate than would generally be expected for that small of a difference in scores.

As a made up example, if you scored two percentage points higher on your final than me, and all else equal, as a result over the course of your career that single test caused you to get promoted at a rate that was double the rate at which I got promoted, then one could realistically say that the rate of promotion is disproportionately higher than expected because in many cases a two percentage point difference would not be statistically significant while a doubling would be. The two are so different that it doesn't seem unreasonable to call them disproportionate. To be clear, those aren't the numbers from the article, but the article was just suggesting that there was that type of mismatch - small test score difference leading to a large, long term difference.

And that long term effect is key because it magnifies the issue: a very small difference in a score on one test you take early in your career has large ramifications for potentially decades? That creates a large incentive to cheat. And that's just it - I'm not arguing what's fair or unfair or what's right or wrong in this scenario, just saying that it sounds like there were some pretty big incentives to cheat.

Re:What partisan wrote this? (3, Insightful)

quantaman (517394) | about 3 months ago | (#47565871)

I disagree. I'd be surprised if the standard deviation for an individual test taker was less than 2%. If you take the office who scored 95% and the officer who scored 93%, then made them take another test on the same subject, I wouldn't be remotely surprised if the scores were reversed. This is a good rational to make the test pass/fail and drop the grades.

Unrealistic expectaitions? (3, Insightful)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 3 months ago | (#47565547)

Unrealistic expectations?

Not for the best of the Best of the BEST, SIR!

Re:Unrealistic expectaitions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47566391)

With honors!

90% proficiency and career progression (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565557)

To push a red button when odered by Washington?? No wonder our DoD is sucking the taxpayers' money dry.

take the men out of the loop (4, Funny)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 3 months ago | (#47565623)

take the men out of the loop

Re:take the men out of the loop (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565721)

That's sexist.

Re:take the men out of the loop (1)

jimmifett (2434568) | about 3 months ago | (#47565953)

no, it's Technologist.

Get off your PC thought control horse and watch War Games to get his reference

Re:take the men out of the loop (1)

Scorchmon (305172) | about 3 months ago | (#47566395)

Would you like to play a game?

Re:take the men out of the loop (1)

armanox (826486) | about 3 months ago | (#47567007)

The only winning move is not to play.

Re:take the men out of the loop (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47567365)

Unless it is a nice game of chess.

Re:take the men out of the loop (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47568885)

But what if it was a nice game of chess?

60 Minutesdid a good segment on this (1)

ddtmm (549094) | about 3 months ago | (#47565629)

If the story 60 Minutes did on this is anywhere accurate it doesn't surprise me the cheating is a huge problem. The state of repair of the facilities and systems was so bad, it showed to me that no one in the Command is paying attention. I don't want to say no one cares, but it looks pretty bad. The state of repair of their systems is probably the same as their staff.

Hooray (1)

Greyfox (87712) | about 3 months ago | (#47565673)

I'm glad the men in charge of ending the world have such unflinching ethical standards.

what is the test? (1)

Mirar (264502) | about 3 months ago | (#47565681)

To remember the launch code [dailymail.co.uk] ? :)

Simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565689)

You never see your grade. It's sealed. Use it for training and placement, but you never see it.

Sadly, like every other bureacracy, the military is ripe for abuse. And ultimately, those who DO have access to the scores, most likely can be bought.

"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (2)

jimmifett (2434568) | about 3 months ago | (#47565691)

Are you kidding me? 90% competency in protocol is unrealistic?
When it comes to a nation's nuclear weapons, I don't want a B or less, I want the person with the A managing the switch.

Has this country become so lazy and apologetic towards 'bad grades hurt feelings' pansies that they will pass everyone?
If I recall from ye olde school days:
A = 94-100%
B = 84-93%
C = 74-83%
D = 64-73%
F = 64%

C shouldn't even be a passing grade. It was never acceptable in my house. C's wait tables. D's are garbage collectors, F's live in government housing and vote for the people that continue to favor teacher's unions over children's educations and to take money from those the paid attention and succeeded to support them.

Everyone should be striving to be top in their desired field, whatever that be, from software dev to mechanic to entertainer. And if one isn't in their desired field, then they should be spending their free time to improve themselves to get into their desired fields.

90% is not unrealistic, it's a MINIMUM requirement for success.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

McKing (1017) | about 3 months ago | (#47565943)

That's the whole point. Every last one of these officers got above 90%, but the ones who (for example) got a 95% were promoted faster than the ones who got 93%. Answering one question wrong became at least a roadblock if not a career-killer, so they cheated to get 100%.

It like those "customer satisfaction surveys" that a lot of industries rely on. If you answer them correctly and accurately ("well they did the job adequately, no complaints so I give them 4 stars"), you are actually hurting the business or the customer service rep or the salesman. Anything less than "5-stars" becomes failure.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

jimmifett (2434568) | about 3 months ago | (#47566085)

I get that, I'm not commenting on that fact. I'm commenting on the 90% or better is an unrealistic expectation in the summary.

Now, as to 95 vs 93% affecting promotion speed? I don't see the problem there either. The person who studied harder (or better) than his rival should definitely have their higher score have more weight when considered for promotion.

Did both pass the test? Yes, but candidate x passed better than y. If all other things are equal, then X should get the promotion.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 3 months ago | (#47566657)

I get that, I'm not commenting on that fact. I'm commenting on the 90% or better is an unrealistic expectation in the summary.

Now, as to 95 vs 93% affecting promotion speed? I don't see the problem there either. The person who studied harder (or better) than his rival should definitely have their higher score have more weight when considered for promotion.

Did both pass the test? Yes, but candidate x passed better than y. If all other things are equal, then X should get the promotion.

Except well, a 2% difference on an exam score really means you got one question wrong on a multiple-choice test. Unless the test is hundreds of questions long, 2% isn't that many questions and scores can vary even amongst the same person because of the questions asked. I mean, assuming the tests are generated uniquely for each person from a question pool, it can be expected that they may get 43 questions right on one exam, 42 on another. Luck of the draw, and yet has extreme career implications.

Hell, if you want to take this to the extreme, visit Asia. Where the exam you take right out of high school literally determines your future. Get 95% or higher and you'll get scholarships to study at the world's finest universities - US, UK, wherever you want. Get 90% and you'll go to an in-country university. Below that - you're a tradesperson and a shame on your family. Go kill yourself.

Yes, you'll actually find the rate of teen suicides disproportionally high - many succumb to the pressure before the exam, many immediately after (they didn't think they did well, might as well end it before shame of receiving the marks), and many after getting their marks rather than face their families. Yes, they'd rather commit suicide than explain to their parents that they got an 89%.

Oh yeah, pressure to cheat is high too, for obvious reasons.

Basically unless the exam is hundreds to say, a thousand questions long, the difference between a 93 and 95% is well within statistical error. But if you get lucky and get a test that had one easier question than another, that means you'll get promotions way quicker, well, there's a lot of incentives to cheat.

Move to pass/fail is the correct thing to do. The only way to make a 2% difference matter is to make sure each question counts for just a tiny bit so it averages out. If it's a 1000 question test, 93% means one person answered 930 questions correctly, while 95% means they answered 950 questions correctly. The 20 extra questions eliminate the chance it was a question that was slightly easier, and that someone actually did study harder, and practice harder.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

jimmifett (2434568) | about 3 months ago | (#47566809)

I disagree entirely. One question when dealing with the operations of a nuclear missile site is not statistical error if that question involves verification procedure for a launch order, or anything else that involves a life or megadeath decision.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

hendrips (2722525) | about 3 months ago | (#47567153)

If what you say really is true, then the passing score should be 100% already.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 3 months ago | (#47567685)

You're wrong.
It's a specific set of procedures. You know them and can preform them or you can not.
They aren't doing calculations.
  They aren't composing a sonnet, they aren't reciting history dates.

But I've been there, and you just an ass on /.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

jimmifett (2434568) | about 3 months ago | (#47567829)

Then do enlighten us, what sort of things are on such a test where the difference between 93 and 95% is immaterial? I'd be very curious to know.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47568239)

One question when dealing with the operations of a nuclear missile site is not statistical error if that question involves verification procedure for a launch order, or anything else that involves a life or megadeath decision.

You are confusing "significance (statistical)" with "significance (colloquial)". The test is not the real world. Test results are merely a measurement of a person's skills, and have measurement error like everything other type of measurement. There is not enough difference between 93% and 95% to know they wouldn't swap scores if tested again.

The real solution is to take all the 90% scorers and give them a much harder test that gives you a more precise answer, and promote based on that.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (3, Insightful)

Kelbear (870538) | about 3 months ago | (#47566009)

Who are you talking to?

The summary states that 90% will continue to remain the minimum requirement for success, as it was before.

  The "unrealistic expectation" was making promotion decisions based solely on the difference between 93% vs 95% on the test score. A 90% was the equivalent of a "D". The problem was that to be promoted, the expectation was to hit that 2% difference (which may very well be a single question on the test) and that would mean the difference between being promoted or not being promoted (which means a host of different responsibilities). It's nice to have a firm metric you can point to in order to justify the decision that was made.

The problem is that the single question out of many, was the deciding factor between 2 candidates to take on a multitude of increased responsibilities, their qualification for which may not be accurately gauged by a single question out of many on a graded exam. For comparison, let's say you have 2 programmers take a test, programmer A gets 93%, and programmer B gets 95%. They both clearly have a very strong grasp of the requisite knowledge, which would you promote? The 95%? Well what if programmer B has excellent book-retention, but is lazy and disorganized in his personal and professional life? Maybe he has poor leadership skills over the people that he/she oversees? The idea of promotion based on a tiny difference in already-strong test scores starts to fall apart.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

jimmifett (2434568) | about 3 months ago | (#47566279)

Your last paragraph raises valid points, however, it's based on insufficient information of the promotion process on both our parts.
Provided everything else is equal in qualifications for promotion, then yes, 95 is better than 93 when selecting for a limited supply of promotion.

However, this does not exist in a vacuum, and in your example, the lazy disorganized book retention specialist would be passed over for their disorganization if it hindered there performance in other areas.

Additionally, not toward you, but in general, I call Bull on people dismissing that the difference between 95 and 93% being a single question as not that crucial to the selection process. If that question happen to be order of procedures for verification protocols for a launch command, I want the person who got that correct promoted. If it's about security protocols, base operations, food or launch fuel logistics, targeting calculations, etc, I want the guy that got the right answers.

When nuclear missiles are involved, I want to be certain the most knowledgeable are being promoted.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (2)

geekoid (135745) | about 3 months ago | (#47567719)

Do you know why they want to get promoted in missile command? to get out of missile command.
Look, I was in Missile Command(F.E. Warren*). You're whole view on this is wrong. Your view is based on a school math like grading system. That in no way applies here.

*Fuck Everybody Warren.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

jimmifett (2434568) | about 3 months ago | (#47567915)

So, is missile command a dumping ground, or a proving ground where one has to show they've taken enough shit and learned to kiss the right asses and the test is an arbitrary hurdle?

If it's just an arbitrary hurdle, fine, however, I would still believe that when handing out limited promotions, as unscrupulous as the process is made out to be, it seams that having the better score makes it easier to justify on a form why x is promoted over y. I can easily believe that the equiv of HR dumping resumes that don't have the right buzzwords on them or masters vs bachelors vs decade of experience is occurring.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

CaptainDork (3678879) | about 3 months ago | (#47566039)

Bulldust.

For some of us, the "top of the desired desired field," is is making enough money to buy bait.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

jimmifett (2434568) | about 3 months ago | (#47566355)

If that is all one aspires towards, so be it. Being able to enjoy one's free time is a wonderful thing.

I, however, was instilled with an ethic to "always be better than the other guy in what you do".
It's served my family well for many years, even in hard times.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

CaptainDork (3678879) | about 3 months ago | (#47567335)

I was instilled with the ethic that hunting squirrels, fishing, eating blackberries and taking kids swimming was the entire point of trading time for money.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (1)

jimmifett (2434568) | about 3 months ago | (#47567645)

It most certainly is the entire point, and I do love me some good blackberries and fishing.

However, when times are tough, and one needs to stand out from the crowd to get paid and advance, the best prepared is oft likely to achieve their goals. Too many are content to live a subsidized lifestyle and too many more are content to subsidize instead of getting the subsidized off their posteriors.

In my particular case, I'm approaching in 15+ years or so when my age begins to count against me. Therefore, I ensure through my own hard work and self learning that I am versatile, experienced, and able to adapt quickly and better to newer technologies than the little (cheaper) snots coming up under me expecting praise and adulation at every turn so their 'feelings' don't get hurt.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47567467)

"I, however, was instilled with an ethic to "always be better than the other guy in what you do"."

So you were raised to be constantly insecure?

I was raised to be the best I could possibly be at whatever I chose to do. What that level of ability or outcome is in relation to what other people achieve is irrelevant. Otherwise, you only perform enough to beat the closest competition. Which is often shit.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47566309)

school days from when I graduated high school in 2006.
A 95-100
B 85-94.9
C 75-84.9
D 70-74.9
F anything lower then 69.9

then you have AP scores, but that doesn't go towards GPA

the scores are even tougher now with common core. And good luck getting into even a community collegel with a C average. Lots of push by families to get higher grades. Get back in your chair grandpa. If you have beef, complain about how charter school programs and voucher programs are trying to suck cash out of districts that are already on the edge. you end up right back where we started with segregated schools, and socioeconomic stratification.

Re:"unrealistic expectations of the Air Force" ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47566367)

Interesting, we had a very different scale. A= 100%-90% B= 89%-80% C=79%-71% D=70% F=69% and lower. It was easier to get an A, but also easier to fail the class.

No child left behind (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565713)

Everyone loves it.

In with the new (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565733)

"The Air Force is also making an effort to replace or refurbish the aging equipment that runs these facilities."

"George, you've been a good janitor for this silo for decades, but we're going to have to let you go."

weight away from paper tests and toward practical (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 3 months ago | (#47565757)

More tests need to based on practical skills and non test cramming.

Whats the point if people who are good at test cramming are rated better then the people who know what they doing and can be good at the practical skills parts.

Been there, done that (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565775)

I was a Missile Launch Officer in an earlier life and it was without a doubt the worst job that I ever had. Boredom with massive micromanagement. Drive 2-3 hours to get to site, sit in an underground control center about the size of an RV for 24 hours, drive back 2-3 hours to base. Seven times a month, then a few days per month for training. Would never recommend that job to anyone that has an once of creativity.

Re:Been there, done that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47566359)

I can believe that. For what it's worth, thanks for your service. Boredom can be almost as bad for the mind as getting shot at.

Re:Been there, done that (1)

PvtVoid (1252388) | about 3 months ago | (#47567825)

I was a Missile Launch Officer in an earlier life and it was without a doubt the worst job that I ever had. Boredom with massive micromanagement. Drive 2-3 hours to get to site, sit in an underground control center about the size of an RV for 24 hours, drive back 2-3 hours to base. Seven times a month, then a few days per month for training. Would never recommend that job to anyone that has an once of creativity.

I for one am very glad that you (and all of your colleagues) spent your time bored.

Let Them Cheat! (1)

Baldrson (78598) | about 3 months ago | (#47565877)

If you have people that are even remotely tempted to cheat that have their fingers on The Big Red Button, you have a serious threat to civilization.

Having an incentive to cheat is a great way to elicit this potential. The proper national security response is not to remove the incentive to cheat but to increase the detection sensitivity and then hire the guys who cheated to compete with others who cheated to design test regimes that are more likely to elicit cheating while also being more sensitive to detecting cheating.

Re:Let Them Cheat! (1)

Baldrson (78598) | about 3 months ago | (#47566003)

Oh I should add that once you are in this regime, the term "hire" may be somewhat different than it is in other circumstances. I mean a more straight-forward means of dealing with cheating is to punish cheating with a degree of severity that matches the potential harm inflicted by having cheaters with their fingers on The Big Red Button -- so the circumstances of the "employment" may involve such any aspects of such punishment as are practically applicable. Military justice isn't burdened with your usual Civil Libertarian constraints.,

No worries (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47565885)

Xenu will never defeat the loyal officers.

Summary Less Exciting than Headline (1)

dmomo (256005) | about 3 months ago | (#47566045)

It reads as if they were delivering test results via missile launch. I sit here very disappointed.

Won't work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47566135)

Regulational and technical fixes for a leadership problem?

It won't have much effect on the root cause problem. The faulty leadership will simply use another faulty KPI for promotion instead of their leadership capabilities (which all leaders should possess, or they shouldn't be leaders in the first place!).

In Capitalist America (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47566273)

Everyone gets a trophy!

Derp derp!!!

High stakes testing strikes again (1)

ErichTheRed (39327) | about 3 months ago | (#47566651)

If the tests were the sole basis for who gets promoted in a particular group of officers, I can see why the cheating occurred. Since promotion is tied to pay increases, and the job doesn't really change that much (other than you might be the "lead" launch officer or whatever...) people would be tempted to cheat to make sure they get the highest score. If I had a job that was that boring, I sure would want to get paid the most I possibly could for doing it.

This is a common problem with high stakes testing. Standardized tests like the SAT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT etc. have entire industries built around getting the maximum score possible on the test, since it largely determines your future prospects. For example, if you're planning on law school, due to offshoring and the Bar Association not protecting the barriers to entry, the profession is completely dead to anyone who doesn't graduate from Harvard, Yale or Stanford (in the top 10% of their class.) As in, no one should waste their money on law school if they can't get into one of these schools. Guess what a key factor for admission is? Yup, LSAT scores!

Closer to home, our county's police force is well-known as an extremely stable, very well paid job opportunity...yes, it means you're a cop and you get all the crap that goes along with that, but it's in a reasonably safe part of the country, you can retire in 20 years with a fully vested pension, health care is completely free, and they're not offshoring cops. As a result, thousands and thousands of people take the police civil service exam every year and they're competing for maybe 50 or 60 spots. When several hundred people get 100% on the exam (and some get more than that due to bonus "status" points,) I'm sure there's extreme pressure to perform. I imagine cheating is dealt with swiftly, and for people who have their heart set on getting the job, not ever being able to compete for it again might be enough of a deterrent. But for these missile launch officers, it might have been different. I can't imagine anything more boring than doing a 24 hour shift waiting for an order that has a 99.9999999% chance of never arriving. The temptation to get ahead and move on with one's career must be huge.

That's just what we need... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47567145)

Nuclear missile command operators who can't prove that they can locate Russia on a map. If one of them drops nukes on Canada by mistake, I'm sure the Canadians will be pissed at us. Then we won't have any decent maple syrup after the apocalypse.

Correction to article (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about 3 months ago | (#47567185)

just over half of the Air Force military officers put in charge of U.S. Air Force nuclear launch facilities

The Navy maintains a reasonably large fleet of FBMs that are not manned by the Air Force.

Only 90% to pass??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47568679)

Umm, nuclear missile command, 90% to pass? I'd expect 100%

In what reality is it ok for someone dealing with nuclear missiles not to know what they're doing 10% of the time?

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