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Bill: 8th-graders must pass U.S. civics test

Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

April 5, 2010 - 6:04PM

Students who don’t know key elements of U.S. history and civics may be bound to repeat eighth grade.

Legislation approved Monday by the House Education Committee would require students to get a passing grade on a test composed of questions from the same examination that the U.S. government requires before someone can become a citizen.

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Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, said the requirement, which would take effect next school year, probably comes too soon to actually hold anyone back. But Huppenthal said it is his intent that it eventually become a barrier that students need to hurdle to get to high school.

“This is really pretty serious business when you’re talking about the culture of your country and the history, and passing on to the next generation some sense of what America’s all about,” he said.

Huppenthal said that, unlike the standardized tests now given to students to check their reading, math and writing, this would be relatively simple — and relatively cheap — to administer.

He pointed out that the federal government already has a list of 100 questions, complete with acceptable answers, that they use as the basis for citizenship exams. SB 1404 would require schools to pick 20 of those questions, with youngsters required to obtain a passing score to advance to the next school year.

Passing the test, said Huppenthal, should be easy — especially since schools would be free to post both the full list of questions and answers on their Web sites.

“You know what the questions are going to be in advance, you know what the answers are,” he said. “If you look at those questions, you would agree that’s core information that every citizen should know. It’s definitely knowledge every eighth-grader can obtain.”

But Mike Smith said what it may not be is information that eighth-graders have been taught.

Smith, who lobbies for the Arizona School Administrators Association, said there’s nothing in Huppenthal’s proposal that aligns itself with the curriculum spelled out by the state of what youngsters are supposed to learn by that point.

Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, also questioned the usefulness of the knowledge. He said youngsters will learn, if forced to learn to get out of the eighth grade, that George Washington was the first president.

“But what’s more important to me is that they know how he got to become our first president and why that is important as a citizen of the United States,” Meyer said. “This test, in my mind, doesn’t do that.”

Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, disagreed.

She said there is a “lack of understanding of how our country works and our history and what it means to be an American citizen.” Barto said while this test won’t cover all of that knowledge “I do see it as a first step.”

One fight that remains is whether Huppenthal gets his wish to make passing the test a gateway to high school.

Rep. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he cannot support making this a “high stakes” test, similar to the current requirement for students to pass Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards to graduate from high school.

But Huppenthal said only by making passing the test necessary will students take the exam seriously.

One option, he said, would be to have the first year of the exam be more of an experiment.

“I’d certainly like to have a roll-out year that gives us some sense of what the failure rate might be,” Huppenthal said. But he said students should be required to show some competency to go on to high school.

Random questions from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:

Q: What are the colors of our flag?
A: Red, white and blue.

Q: What country did we fight in the Revolutionary War?
A: England.

Q: Who elects the president of the United States?
A: The electoral college.

Q: Who elects Congress?
A: The people.

Q: Why are there 100 senators?
A: Two from each state.

Q: What do we call a change to the constitution?
A: An amendment.

Q: What are the duties of the Supreme Court?
A: To interpret laws.

Q: Who said ‘Give me liberty or give me death’?
A: Patrick Henry.

Q: What is the minimum voting age in the United States?
A: 18.

Q: What special group advises the president?
A: The Cabinet.

Q: Who has the power to declare war?
A: The Congress.

Q: Name the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
A: Freedom of speech, press, religion, peaceable assembly, and requesting a change of the government.

Q: What are the two major political parties in the U.S. today?
A: Democratic and Republican.

Q: Which president freed the slaves?
A: Abraham Lincoln.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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