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Illinois High Schools Prepare for New Civics Requirement

Illinois school districts are preparing to meet the requirements of a new law that requires students to take a civics course in order to graduate from high school, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Just 60 percent of Illinois high schools required civics courses before the law passed, according to the Chicago-based Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and it is not clear that all of them fulfill the law's requirements. 

The civics course is the first new state-mandated graduation requirement in more than a decade. The Illinois law requires students to take two years of social studies, including a semester of civics. It specifies that the civics course should include "the discussion of current and controversial issues, service learning, and simulations of the democratic process."

The Illinois State Board of Education offered guidance to districts, according to the Tribune, saying they can incorporate civics into their curricula in whatever way they feel is suited to their students, but that they must include the discussions, service learning, and simulations specified in the law.

A number of civic and business groups pledged money to support schools' preparations for the new requirement. 

The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. That caused some confusion, as some interpreted that as meaning that even students who are slated to graduate in 2016 would have to take a civics course. Illinois legislators have written a revision, clarifying that this year's 9th graders will be the first held to the requirement. 

The state's legislature was one of a number that took on civics education in 2015. More than a dozen states considered adding a requirement that high schoolers pass the test usually taken by those hoping to become naturalized citizens. In 2013, about 20 states required a civics course.

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