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Thirteen States Now Require Grads to Pass Citizenship Test

Thirteen states now plan to require high school graduates-to-be to take or pass a citizenship test before receiving a diploma. That's up from four at this time last year—and zero at this time the year before. 

Legislators around the country have passed laws requiring students to take or pass the exam, which is required of those applying for U.S. citizenship. Arizona and North Dakota were the first states to pass the requirements, in January of 2015. The Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute's Civics Education Initiative has pushed for the bills, and aims to introduce the requirement in every state by 2017. Several states' legislative sessions are ongoing, so there's a chance even 2016 will see more states added to the tally. 

Lucian Spataro Jr., the chairman of education initaitives at the Joe Foss Institute, said the goal of the Civics Education Initiative is "to bring attention to quiet crisis. We see it as a good first step toward balancing curriculum in [the] classroom and bringing emphasis to soft disciplines." Spataro said he believed that subjects like social studies and civics were getting short shrift in schools.

Here's the Joe Foss Institute's map of where bills have passed or been considered as of late May 2016:

Civics Education Initiative.png

States have taken different approaches to implementing the test. In Arizona, some 8th graders may take the exam soon after they finish their U.S. history courses. In North Dakota, some school districts administered practice tests. Two independent groups of students have created apps to help students practice for the exam.  

Most of the states that have passed the test requirement so far lean right politically —but bills have gotten bipartisan support in a number of states, and the list of states for next year covers the ideological spectrum.

Those who are applying to become U.S. citizens are asked to answer six out of ten questions from this list of 100 questions correctly. The new laws ask students to correctly answer different numbers of questions.

Spataro said that the test is simple and short enough that it hasn't drawn much backlash, though some have argued that memorizing facts to prepare for a multiple-choice test is not the most effective way to build an engaged citizenry.  

Spataro said that while the questions may be simple, "if [students] were learning this in schools, they should be able to answer them correctly." He said that the test encourages teachers to teach about topics like the Bill of Rights and checks and balances and students to actually memorize the information.

And he said that having students learn about government is critical at a time when many Americans feel disenfranchised or frustrated with elected officials. "If you understand the rules of engagement, how the republic operates, everyone's on that same platform, and it's easier to come to consensus...you'd still have disagreement but at least you'd be trying to meet in the middle." 

Map source: Joe Foss Institute

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