High School Civics Test Current Laws

With mounting expectations towards not only passing courses, but satisfying requirements to graduate, high school students across the nation are juggling a variety of responsibilities. One of these is the civics requirement that is inconsistently applied throughout different states. Despite this, the nature and purpose of this requirement, which usually comes in congruence to a social studies requirement, is within its subject matter and the skills it strives to nurture.

Overall most states maintain that the civics requirement comes as a mean to increase civic duty and knowledge of a citizen’s duty to the nation. The civics credit generally includes in some part material of federal, state, and local government organization and procedures, the rights of citizens in the Constitution, issues that different levels of government address, and the process of voting, referenda, ballots, and initiatives. In turn states have also moved towards service learning as a means of mastering the civics requirement. This entails some type of applied, hands on lesson within the context of the material, and can range from volunteering during an elections or being an intern for some facet of public works.

The debate of a civics requirement, and in turn, a test that students must pass has created debate among educators and politicians. While some advocate that the civics requirement is a means to empower students to become responsible citizens, critics claim it is just another burden for students, the school district budget, and the testing regulations of schools or states. They also claim that civics is the underlying theme to the academic track of students, and that is unnecessary to have students memorize facts when these facts are presented through social studies and history courses. The big question to ask is, is memorizing material the best way to recall it after years have passed, especially when it comes to the subject of civics?

Arizona Civics Law

Arizona is one of the states to specifically require a civics credit and a state test. This comes contrary to other states where civics has not been treated as its own separate subject with its own specific test. The premise for the requirement is to build a future generation of Americans who are civically engaged in their state and nation. Surveys throughout the years have revealed that students of higher socioeconomic status, who have access to well-equipped schools, are college bound, or white are more exposed to civics education than minorities or those who are not college bound. With approximately 19 states testing for some aspect of civics education, proponents of a nationwide movement to make civics testable insist that if it is not tested, it is not taught.

Other State Civics Laws

Every state has indeed adopted within its Standard of Learning some standards that address civic education, yet some studies like one done by the Albert Shanker Institute found that these were too broad, focused too much on history and may have required more time than available to teachers. For 34 states they come in combination with social studies requirements, and while California, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia have had state tests focus on civics, only Ohio and Virginia required the exam as a means to passing the course.

Since the release of the National Assessment of Educational Project, it has been revealed that the scattered attempts at civic education have not contributed much, as students across the U.S showed no increase in their performance on a civics specific portion of the examination.

Now politicians and educators alike are re-examining standards in civics education, and while there is no disagreement that civics education needs bolstering, there is disagreement on how to do it. One particular way is by testing students the same way foreign born citizens are tested before they attain citizenship. Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler stating, When you start having students graduate from high school who don’t know where we got our independence from and that kind of stuff, I think it’s a little frightening. I want kids to know as much as people who become citizens of the United States.”

The point of comparison between naturalized citizens who are required to take a civics exam, but American students performing poorly on this exam, is a driving argument for those states which maintain a tested civics requirement. In 2009 Washington state also passed legislation requiring a civics credit, and within the law states that “the assessment is designed to measure the civics knowledge and skills that are critical to the responsibilities of citizenship in America’s constitutional democracy.” Washington, unlike Arizona, only requires an educational credit, and even so leaves flexibility to educators to design the best approach for students to achieve the required 0.5 credit.

As Arizona, Utah, and North Dakota adopt the immigration civics test for their own students, other states like, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Texas are following suit and considering the civics immigration test a graduation requirement. A study cited by Forbes has reported, however, that only 5% of high schoolers in Arizona are even able to pass the test while 92% of foreign born citizens pass.

The test itself is that which is administered to immigrants and consists of one hundred questions. States that require an examination usually considering a passing mark of at least sixty percent of questions answered correctly—the same standard used for immigrants.

While the motivations differ, the difference itself is problematic. Even so, some point that the test will not solve the problem of the education’s system failure of civics education, but rather focus on the way it is taught. Typically states include some aspects of civics education within social studies. Yet in their inclusion the teaching is not student centric, does not focus on service skills, and does not actively explore the community’s issues at hand. Tennessee, Illinois, and California have recognized poor knowledge of civics and passive teaching of civics, and are focusing on the way it is taught rather than the way it is tested. While Washington has only maintained a civics credit, it does outline expectations of how the subject is taught, emphasizing service learning.

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