Civics test has a new fan

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is calling on states to require students to pass a test in civics before graduating high school.

“I would love to see young people, boys and girls, become more engaged in our system of government and comprehend the importance of We the People,” she says in the promotional video for the Civics Education Initiative.

The problem is, we the people don’t know much about our government.

Fewer than one-third of us can name a branch of government, let alone discuss its function in a meaningful way. In addition, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs recently noted, according to the video, that only 4 percent of high school students were able to pass a basic civics test, the same 100-question test that’s required of every immigrant who applies for US citizenship.

“The Civics Education Initiative is a quantifiable first step,” Ms O’Connor said. Her group is trying to pass laws in all 50 states that would add passing a basic civics test to the list of requirements for high school graduation. “These basic 100 facts about America are required learning for every immigrant applying for citizenship. Shouldn’t we require the same of our own high school students?”

Questions from the sample test include

  • Why does the flag have 13 stripes?
  • Name a branch of government.
  • When’s the last day to send in income tax forms?
  • What are the two major political parties in the US?

Campaigns as part of the initiative have now begun in seven states: Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah. Their goal, a noble one but doable, is to pass laws in all 50 states by Sept 17, 2017, the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, that require high school students to pass the basic civics test.

Opposition is likely from several groups, including parents who think kids have to take too many tests, school boards who will wonder who’s going to pay for millions of students to take the test, and teachers, who will want to be sure they cover the content of the test in addition to everything else they have to teach kids.

We’re neutral on this one. It’s embarrassing that so many Americans don’t understand how our government works, and it would be nice for our future to ensure today’s high school students have at least a basic understanding. On the other hand, high school exit exams in any subject are a hot-button issue when it comes to schools.

After explaining both sides of this issue, describe any additional information that would make the case for the civics test stronger? See Common Core English language arts literacy standard SL.11-12.1.D for more information.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.