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High-Stakes History Test Needed in Massachusetts, Think Tank Says

Policymakers in Massachusetts should reinstate a requirement that high school students pass a standardized U.S. history exam to graduate, a Boston-based think tank argues in a new report.

Such a mandate was in place previously, but it was halted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2009, before it ever took effect. Board members had cited budgetary concerns as the main rationale for postponing the exam's implementation.

"[T]he Commonwealth of Massachusetts was on the right track when it insisted that students be required to demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history in order to graduate from high school," says the white paper, issued this week by the Pioneer Institute. "The time has come to reinstitute the state test. ... More important, the time has come for our state leaders and our schools not only to acknowledge history's fundamental role in the creation of citizens but also to put the resources behind such words."

The report was coauthored by Anders Lewis, a history teacher at the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Marlboro, Mass., and Sandra Stotsky, a professor emerita of education at the University of Arkansas.

The board revisited the matter in 2011, the report said, this time removing any reference to how long the exam would be postponed. (The initial action said the exam would not be apply to students in the class of 2012 or 2013.) You can read about that action from board minutes on the deliberations.

A survey conducted last May with support from the Pioneer Institute found a majority of both parents and teachers supported the graduation requirement. Half of teachers "strongly supported" restoring the mandate, while 13 percent "somewhat supported" it. Among parents, 39 percent "strongly supported" doing so and 20 percent "somewhat supported" it.

The Pioneer report argues that it's time for state legislators to step in and mandate that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education reinstate the planned U.S. history test beginning with the class of 2015-16.

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