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Army announces gender-specific fitness test score percentiles after women’s high fail rates on gender-neutral test

Army 1st Lt. Tyler McKinney, performs the leg tuck event. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Connor Coombes, 2d Cavalry Regiment)
March 22, 2021

The U.S. Army announced Monday that it will use keep the events on the third version of the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT 3.0) gender-neutral, but male and female soldiers will be evaluated on separate gender-specific percentile tiers, amid concerns female soldiers are scoring lower and disproportionately failing the test compared to their male counterparts.

Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, the Commanding General for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, told reporters the ACFT 3.0 “establishes an evaluation system with gender-informed performance categories that may be used now to tier the soldier’s points or score according to their gender.

The Army plans to implement the ACFT 3.0 on April 1, 2022.

The gender-specific percentile tier system is being introduced as female soldiers have earned fewer points on average than their male counterparts and there have been concerns lower test scores on a gender-neutral standard will disadvantage female soldiers being considered for promotions.

The Washington Post reported last fall, based on early ACFT scores, 54 percent of female soldiers failed the gender-neutral standard, as compared to 10 percent of male soldiers. Preliminary results also showed female soldiers performed 100 points lower on the test, on average, than their male counterparts.

Hibbard said all soldiers, male or female, will still be required to meet the same minimum fitness standard of 60 points out of 100 for each of the six events that make up the ACFT.

The fitness test scores will be broken into a separate, gender-specific, five-tiered category system. Those who perform in the top one percent will be in the platinum tier, the top 10 percent are in the gold tier, the top 25 percent in the silver tier, the top 50 percent within the bronze tier, and those who meet the minimum standards for the test will be ranked in the green tier.

Those performance categories will then be used by promotion evaluation boards making promotion considerations. The names and genders of the individual soldiers will be hidden, and those considering promotions will instead only see the soldier’s ACFT performance category.

“So it doesn’t matter if it’s Sgt. John Doe or Sgt. Jane Doe, if they score in the gold category, we know that they’re in the top 10 percent of their gender as we move forward,” Hibbard said. “And then these performance categories may be used to drive promotion points, like for an E4 to E5 promotion, may be used on an evaluation and [order of merit lists] as necessary.”

Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said “the score is still the score, it’s still age and gender nuetral, it’s how we use the score.” Grinston said past versions of the ACFT had not defined how the score would be used.

The test also makes permanent a change brought about in the ACFT 2.0, allowing soldiers to choose between the leg tuck and the core plank during the core strength assessment portion of the test. Soldiers will be allowed to declare whether they will do the plank or leg tuck at the start of the test. There will be no penalty for choosing to do the plank instead of the leg tuck.

Early scores from the ACFT showed female soldiers struggling with the leg tuck event, in which a soldier hanging from a pull-up bar must bring their legs up to their chests.

“We needed to implement an alternate event for the leg tuck, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said. “We did see soldiers struggling with [the leg tuck] and predominantly women.”

Hibbard said the Army also decided to add an alternative to the leg tuck out of consideration for service members who have been in the army for years “and have never been asked to build the upper body strength necesarry to do a pull up or do a leg tuck.”

“It gets significantly harder, as they get older, to build that strength to be successful in that upper body,” Hibbard added.

Hibbard said that by adding the plank as an alternative, it allows the Army to account for those who have been in the service, that have never trained for an event like the leg tuck.

Asked what the incentive might be for soldiers to choose to do the leg tuck rather than the plank, Grinston said soldiers doing the plank would have to do a minimum of two minutes in the core plank position, versus the minimum requirement of one repetition of the leg tuck.

“To do one leg tuck normally does not take two minutes,” Grinston said. “So when you look at the total test in the total time . . . if you go down and do a two-minute plank, that’s going to be more time normally than it would be to do one leg tuck.”

The plan to implement gender-specific percentiles for the ACFT comes amid concerns changes to the fitness test will undermine confidence in female soldiers among their male counterparts.

Last month, Capt. Kristen Griest, the first U.S. Army infantry officer and one of the first of three women to earn the Army Ranger Tab, wrote an essay sharing her opposition to gender-specific fitness standards.

“Under a gender-based system, women in combat arms have to fight every day to dispel the notion that their presence inherently weakens these previously all-male units,” Griest wrote. “Lower female standards also reinforce the belief that women cannot perform the same job as men, therefore making it difficult for women to earn the trust and confidence of their teammates.”

This month, Pentagon leaders, including Grinston, criticized Fox News host Tucker Carlson for questioning Pentagon efforts to make the military more accomodating to female service members.

Grinston tweeted, “Women lead our most lethal units with character. They will dominate ANY future battlefield we’re called to fight on. @TuckerCarlson’s words are divisive, don’t reflect our values. We have THE MOST professional, educated, agile, and strongest NCO Corps in the world.”