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Texas Latest State to Consider Requiring High School Civics Test

Civics MapTexas is the latest state where lawmakers are considering requiring high school students to pass a civics test in order to graduate from high school.

A bill that asks students to take the test required of those applying to become U.S. citizens passed the state's House of Representatives last week, according to the Texas Tribune. If the state's Senate and governor also approve, the citizenship test would replace a current U.S. history test. 

At least 15 states have passed similar requirements, as a result of lobbying from the Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute's Civics Education Initiative. Just last month, Alabama lawmakers also approved adding the citizenship test as a graduation requirement. 

The Joe Foss Institute's initial goal was to have legislation requiring the civics test in all 50 states by September 2017, the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. That looks unlikely at this point, as at least 10 states haven't even considered adding the test. But the civics test did gain traction quickly: The first state that created such a requirement was Arizona in 2015. 

Arizona schools reported that students had a nearly 100 percent pass rate on the test in the first years of the requirement. That's led some critics to say the test is basically meaningless. Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, told Arizona PBS that the test "eats up another instructional day, it gives another silly high-stakes test to our students, and it's completely unnecessary."  

But the Phoenix school district's social studies coordinator told the PBS station that having the test as a requirement demonstrates the significance of the subject.

In Texas, there seem to be some mixed feelings about requiring students to pass exams in order to graduate even as the civics test bill moves forward—a separate bill, approved by the state's Senate, would extend a provision that allows Texas students to graduate from high school even if they haven't passed exams technically required of them.

Education technology companies have also gotten into the civics education game. My colleague Ben Herold reported recently on how teachers are using technology and games to help teach about civics and government without getting caught up in partisan issues.

Image: Civics Education Initiative

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