School & District Management

How Many High School Students Can Pass the U.S. Citizenship Test? States Begin to Find Out

By Sarah D. Sparks — September 14, 2017 1 min read
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States are slowly beginning to require civics education to meet the standards required of incoming immigrants, finds a new report by the Education Commission of the States.

The Joe Foss Institute’s civics education initiative in 2015 called for states to require a civics test with questions drawn from the 100 basic historical and civic facts in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services test, which immigrants must pass to become U.S. citizens. Two years later, the commission found more than half of states at least attempted to do so.

As of this month, 17 states have passed laws requiring the test, and in eight states, students must pass the test with a minimum score in order to graduate from high school.

Going further, New Hampshire now allows districts to issue “civic competency certificates” to any student who passes the test, and Tennessee and Montana recognizes schools where all seniors pass the test as “United States Civics All-Star Schools.”

However, another 18 states tried and failed to pass the requirement. “Defeat of the legislation primarily reflects a rejection of additional mandated high-stakes testing and concerns over the adequacy of the proposed test to ensure robust civic learning,” the report said.

The report also laid out four critical areas for teaching civics:

  • Content knowledge, including foundational periods, people, structures and principles of America’s democracy and laws. Think of this as your typical middle school project to memorize the Bill of Rights.
  • Intellectual civics skills gauge students’ ability to analyze and explain political and social issues and engage in active, civil, (and dare we say polite?) debates with those who hold opposing views. The commission also specifically highlights media literacy and “ensuring that youth can distinguish facts from falsehoods.”
  • Participatory civic skills measure students’ ability to plan for and participate in civic activities such as petitions, public meetings, protests, and elections.
  • Civic dispositions focuses on values and behaviors considered essential to civic engagement, including “tolerance, appreciation of diversity, civility, and concern for the common good.”
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.