Arizona is now the first state approving the law which requires high school students to pass a mandatory U.S. citizenship test before graduation. Even though it’s the first state, it’s not the only one, as more and more local law administrations ponder about passing the same law.
This law might be a good step in the right direction, but teachers and educators all around the country inform us that the nation’s civic notions will need more than a standardized test for improvement. The current situation shows that, in most states, civic training is, at best, a one-semester course about U.S. history.
On Thursday, Arizona became the first state to pass the law for a U.S. citizenship test, containing 100 questions about basic U.S. civic notions: Founding Fathers, presidents and Constitution.
This test is only a scratch on the surface of civic education about duties and responsibilities of a U.S. citizen, and experts on the subject are aiming for a much more detailed and comprehensive test in the future. Their motivation is the awful civic knowledge of the young generation, and their aim is to make a change about that.
Earning a “proficient” or higher score in American History class is a dream for most students. Only 13 per cent of high school students have achieved it, according to the Nation Assessment of Educational Progress from 2010. The youth are not the only ones being affected by a poor civic spirit. The most recent elections gained the lowest voter participation in decades, describing the civic mentality reflected by most of the adult population.
As the first state to pass it as law, Arizona has set goals for improving the numbers in civic knowledge. The Joe Foss Institute plans to influence all of the 50 states of America into deciding on the mandatory citizenship test for all high school graduates. Their objective is set for completion by 2017, when the U.S. will celebrate the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.
The institute is doing a great job so far, since 15 more states are anticipated to consider passing the law this year. Along with Arizona, North Dakota adopted the same measure on the same day, with a tremendous support from the House of Representatives.
The leader of the Joe Foss Institute, Frank Riggs, is a former California Representative, and his initiative comes as a first step toward increasing the understanding of government by high school students.
The U.S. citizenship test approved in the new law does not require a perfect score for a pass. A mark of 60 correct answers out of 100 questions will be enough for every student to be able to graduate. The test will be a part of acquiring the high school diploma process starting with the 2016-17 school year. The procedure states that students will have the option of sitting the test on the first or the last day of high school. There will not be a limited number of opportunities, as students are allowed to take the test as many times as they need before graduation. The Arizona law adds no burden on taxpayers or on schools, as tests have a comprehensive course support available online.
Ted McConnell, executive director of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, a civic learning coalition, agrees with the institute’s prediction that more and more states will agree to adopt the new requirement, starting this year. However, he is among those who acknowledge the dire situation of the civic education, but believe this solution might not be the most appropriate for the problem.
Even though the Arizona law makes for a very fine first step, McConnell and other authorities in the domain believe that the U.S. citizenship test is not extensive enough and will not be able to meet the desired outcome in the student development. The citizenship test does not rise to the rank of the usual civic exam, meaning that states who do have it, have a broader perspective over the general civic knowledge; not only the basic pillars of the U.S. government, but also notions about law equality, democratic systems and responsibilities and obligations of a good citizen.
McConnell fears that the new test will drive students to dull memorization of a standard Q&A test, cramming information rather than instilling a civic spirit in the young generation.
The new law project is part of a larger concern about the narrowing of the mandatory curriculum, as new projects like the one in Arizona or No Child Left Behind seem to take away time which would otherwise be dedicated to a thorough and more exhaustive approach on the subjects. A recent survey reported reduced time on social studies in 27 per cent of the participant districts.
Image Source: Immigrants Support Network