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The Weighted Airman Promotion System: Standardizing Test Scores

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The U.S. Air Force has three major independent systems that affect the health of its enlisted force the manpower system, the strength management system, and the enlisted promotion system. Because the current organizational structure lacks broad coordinating and control mechanisms, this independence spawns policies and procedures that occasionally work at cross-purposes. We discuss these systems at length in Air Force Enlisted Force Management System Interactions and Synchronization Strategies Schiefer et al., 2007. That monograph proposes multiple follow-on efforts, and this study fulfills one of those recommendations. Specifically, we examine the practice of not standardizing the test scores that are part of the enlisted promotion system. This practice produces results that are inconsistent with two overarching policies. First, Air Force Policy Directive 36-25 requires that the enlisted promotion system identify those people with the highest potential to fill positions of increased grade and responsibility. We show that not standardizing test scores means that the Air Force emphasizes longevity and testing ability differently across and within specialties to identify individuals with the highest potential. Our second concern deals with differences in promotion opportunity. While the testing dimension of the enlisted promotion system allows members to influence their own destinies, not standardizing scores means that members of specialties in which testing carries more weight have more control than members of other specialties do. This produces random promotion opportunity differences across Air Force specialty codes AFSCs, thus violating an equity principle that can be traced to a 1970s-era strategic plan for enlisted force management known as the Total Objective Plan for Career Airman Personnel TOPCAP.

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  • Personnel Management and Labor Relations

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