I hope there are enough teachers in the system that are qualified to teach about the consitiution.
F. Haverluck, OneNewsNow.com January 19, 2015 6:50 am Text Size: A A A
After the state legislature’s approval of a new Arizona law Thursday morning, students who want a high school diploma will need to pass a citizenship test or the hats won’t fly at graduation. The law was speedily approved by both houses later in the afternoon and signed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in the evening of the same day.
According to Sidney Hay, of the Silver Bullet consulting firm, Arizona is now the first state to require this test, but the rest of the country is expected to follow suit and bring up similar measures of their own. Hay forecasts that a total of 18 states will pass the bill this year.
Developed and championed by the Joe Foss Institute, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, the organization plans to have the other 49 states administer the test by 2017, which is the 230th anniversary of the United States Constitution. The institute anticipates that by years end, 15 other state legislatures will review implementation of the test — slightly less than Hay expects.
With the passage and signing of the American Civics Act, students who graduate in 2017 and beyond will have the added stipulation that they must get at least 60 out of 100 questions correct on the United States Immigration and Naturalization civics test.
The first chance students will have to pass the test will be the eighth grade. If they do not pass, they can keep on taking it until they prove to have a good understanding of the history and general workings of American government. No pass means no diploma.
Even though such general knowledge about the inner workings of America should be attained by graduation through existing curricula, many state officials have shown a growing concern over graduates not having a basic understanding about the fundamentals of society.
To reach this goal, school districts and charter schools in Arizona will decide what type of civics instruction will be implemented through their curricula, as well as determine the mode of testing.
Once Ducey promised to sign the bill in his State of the State address Monday — as a means of insuring that graduating students have a firm knowledge of civics so they will be informed future voters — things moved quickly. Just days later, the House passed House Bill 2064 41-17-1, while the Senate vote approved it with a 19-10-1 vote.
Newly elected Ducey made sure that Legislature made the civics test first bill to hit his desk as governor of Arizona. He insists that research proves that students have a weak understanding about how government works and that the test will help more students become effective citizens.
“These are our children, and not long from now, it will be for them to vote on who sits in your chairs and who stands at this podium,” Ducey proclaimed in his State of the state address Monday. “How can we expect them to protect the principles on which this country was founded, if we are not preparing them for that task right now?”
The test was also declared to be a needed measure by Republican Senate Majority Leader Steve Yarbrough, who sponsored the bill in his chamber.
“Requiring that students pass this test is not by any means a silver bullet, but I think is a step, a small step forward,” Yarbrough reasoned. “And I think we need to encourage the people of America to become more aware of the values of America.”
Addressing skeptics who argue that the bill was pushed too quickly, Sen. Yarbrough (R-Chandler) asserts that the issue has been on the table for a number of months.
"I've read that anything of real value is worth appropriately measuring," Yarbrough attests. "I would submit that a minimal understanding of American civics is of real value and therefore worthy of measurement."
Arizona Charter Schools Association President and Chief Executive Eileen Sigmund says that having a working knowledge of history and government should be minimum requirements for students.
"This legislation will provide the means to measure whether Arizona students are learning the civics essentials necessary to grow into our nation's next generation of leaders," Sigmund expressed in a statement she released in support of the bill’s passage.
Responding to criticism that the bill is too expensive to taxpayers and is merely rote memorization, Rep. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa) argues that the cost to implement the test will be “infinitesimal” and that memorizing facts has been a standard part of learning for years. He noted how students are already required to remember the periodic table of elements in science class.
Tempe Union High School District governing board member Moses Sanchez emphasized before the Senate Education Committee that the mandatory student exam is a carbon copy of the test immigrants must take when seeking to attain citizenship in the United States.
"As an immigrant and naturalized citizen, I observed and assisted my parents as they studied for their citizenship test and shared in their pride as they passed it," Sanchez shared. "As a parent, I support this bill."
Questions such as, "What is freedom of religion?" and "What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?" appear on the test.
Not so fast …
Despite its quick approval, there are many critics of the bill, especially in the midst of Arizona’s deficit and the issues it faces with funding education. Dissentients claim that the mandatory test is unnecessarily and calls for schools to spend more money to fund it.
One retired public school civics teacher who taught for 32 years said he was disappointed that many believe civics has been taught inadequately in the classroom. Students were required to pass his course before graduating.
"Civics has been part of the curriculum of every grade level for some time," the former Mesa Public Schools teacher, Steve Ramos told the Senate Education Committee. "To now mandate another 100-question civics test seems to fit the governor's definition of waste and duplication of effort.”
Even though Scott Leska, an Amphitheater Unified School District governing board member, declared his support for the testing requirement, he expressed reservations about students taking the test online.
"My concern is that going online and putting your address in is giving the federal government one more piece of information on our students that could be used for whatever reasons — commercial, political, whatever," said Leska, whose district is in Tucson, Arizona.
Cost and disrupting already preciously needed class time were popular arguments against the measure.
According to Phoenix Union High School District governing board member Stephanie Parra, the mandatory test will unnecessarily take away from time already in short demand in the classroom.
"Having students memorize and regurgitate facts is not going to get to the goal of what we want to accomplish here, which is retaining the importance and value of what American civics education should be," Parra pointed out to the Senate Education Committee.
David Bradley, the only Democratic senator on the education committee opposing the bill, argues that the test would not fulfill its sponsors’ promises of making students into good citizens. He also noted that Arizona would have to absorb the cost.
“[T]his is not the end-all be-all to citizenship and it doesn’t get us any further down the road,” Bradley contended.
Joe Mesa, who teaches government in Mesa, Arizona, is worried about losing an entire day of class to implement the test of 100 questions. He argues that such an approach does not engage students properly in civics because it merely calls for rote memorization skills — not critical thinking.
“The interest is promoting civics and we want to see students engaged,” Thomas contested. “I don’t know if a test engages students.”
It was contested by the Associated Press on Wednesday that the low student performance in civics mentioned by Ducey in his State of the State speech was not substantiated. The media hub reported that his information was based on a Goldwater Institute survey that the organization withdrew in 2009 because it didn’t meet its own research standards.
However, students’ low literacy in civics has been found via other measures, such as the National