Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania plans to sign a bill requiring 7th through 12th graders to take a civics test.
Schools can use questions from the U.S. Citizenship test to check students’ knowledge of the structure of our government, the principles of democracy, understanding of our founding documents, and the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens. You can take a practice test here.
State lawmakers point to an “alarming decline in civic knowledge among American adults” as the reason for the bill, which in its original form made passing the test a requirement for high school graduation. A 2016 survey conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center revealed that only 26 percent of Americans were able to identify the three branches of the U.S. government. Later reports have also sounded the alarm about U.S. students’ poor civics knowledge.
“As an educator and a mother, I find the lack of proficiency in U.S. civics and government astounding,” state Representative Karen Boback, who introduced the bill, says in a statement. “Now more than ever, Pennsylvania’s students need all the necessary tools to be active and informed citizens.”
Other states have enacted similar legislation. In 2015, Arizona and North Dakota became the first states to require students to answer a portion of the citizenship test correctly in order to graduate from high school. Of the 17 states making students take a civics test, eight require a minimum score in order to graduate.
The National Council for the Social Studies warns against requiring students to pass the U.S. Citizenship test, however, arguing that it reduces civics to a set of memorized facts that are likely soon forgotten. The group suggests instead that students complete a final project identifying a problem in the community and devising ways to solve it.
While Pennsylvania, high school seniors will not need to pass the test to graduate, those earning a perfect score will be awarded a certificate by the state’s department of education.
School districts will have to report the number of students taking the test, their grade, and passing rates at the end of the 2020-2021 school year and every two years after that.
Before the bill reaches the governor’s desk, it will have to be approved by the senate, which will likely happen when lawmakers return to work next week, according to the governor’s press secretary, J. J. Abbott. The law will take effect 60 days after the governor signs it.
“It is our hope to ensure that students have at least a basic knowledge and understanding of civics and government in order to prepare and encourage them to be responsibly engaged citizens,” the lawmakers wrote in a memo, “and we believe that this legislation is an important and necessary step towards achieving this objective.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.