Idaho the Latest to Consider Citizenship Test for High Schoolers

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A number of states across the US are considering legislation which would require high school students to pass the same citizenship test that is given to naturalized immigrants in order to receive their high school diploma.

Citizenship exams are already a graduation requirement in Arizona and North Dakota, with similar legislation being considered in 19 other states, according to the Joe Foss Institute.  Based in Arizona, the institute promotes basic citizenship education.

“It definitely has legs,” said Frank Riggs, president of the institute. “It’s taken on a little bit of life on its own and has grown organically across the country.”

Such legislation was recently passed in the Idaho Senate by a vote of 29-6.  Lawmakers in the state overwhelmingly supported the bill, which was amended to allow the state Board of Education to create rules with regards to the testing, as well as to leave it up to local school boards to decide how best to administer the exams.  Idaho students will be allowed to begin taking the test in the seventh grade, reports Betsy Z. Russell for The Spokesman-Review.

Critics of the proposal believe that while the issue of students in the US not having a proper civics education is worth focusing on, the solution is wrong, writes Alan Greenblatt for Governing.

“Kids would pass, largely,” said Peter Levine, a professor of citizenship and public affairs at Tufts University. “Then I worry that states would actually cut the civics classes.”

Levine and other critics feel that the addition of another standardized test will not fix the issue at hand.  He went on to say that preparation for the exam is merely the memorization of facts, and the test itself “sends a signal that civics is a bunch of unconnected trivia,” Levine argued.

Levine did say that while most states across the country require at least a one semester course in government or civics, those classes do not meet the standards detailed through Common Core or No Child Left Behind.  “If we define an acceptable level of civic knowledge as passing the U.S. citizenship test, then students will be able to prepare for it in a couple of days,” he said. “If that’s all they need, why continue to require a whole semester-long course?”

He continued to argue that legislators are too quick to micromanage the content taught in civics courses.  He says it would better serve students to have civics teachers receive better training and to have that training measured every so often.  Ted McConnell, executive director of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, agreed, arguing that there are currently only 9 states who require such an assessment, with an additional 10 holding no requirement that students even take a civics course.