The North Bend Eagle


Civics exam coule be new graduation requirement

by Seth Olson, Nebraska News Service
Published 2/24/16

LINCOLN--Future high schoolers across Nebraska may need to pass a civics exam before grabbing their diploma.

LB869, introduced by Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, would require all high school students to pass a 100-question civics test. The questions would be from the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services’ naturalization test.

U.S. ConstitutionKrist said while this exam is just a stepping stone for moving forward, a U.S. citizen should be able to answer questions people entering the country are forced to answer in order to become citizens. Krist also emphasized the importance of students becoming engaged in government.

“If students don’t understand how the government works at the most basic level, how can we expect them to understand the importance of voting and engaging in the political process?” Krist asked.

If passed, it would be up to the Legislature to decide what questions to include. They could customize the test and also incorporate Nebraska’s state civics questions along with those of the federal government.

Each school district would decide how to administer the test, which could be taken any time in grades nine through 12. Students would be allowed to repeat the test as many times as necessary to pass. The first graduating class affected by the bill would be students of the 2017-18 class.

Last year, nine states passed similar legislation while 24 more, including Nebraska, are considering it this year. Neighboring South Dakota and nearby North Dakota were two of the states to pass the statute. In Arizona and Oklahoma, two other states where the civics test requirement has been adopted, Krist said only four percent of students passed.

To Krist, that means we are facing a crisis in school today with students and their lack of civic knowledge.

Lucian Spataro from the Joe Foss Institute, who testified at a Tuesday hearing in support of the bill, called it a quiet crisis in America. The institute is an Arizona-based nonprofit organization that advocates for civics education and civics involvement.

Requiring the civics examination would shift the focus back to learning about government after educational institutions across the country have spent nearly all of their time on STEM content, or science, technology, engineering and math, he said.

“If tested, it’s emphasized,” Spataro said. “This will put American civics back on the front burner, encouraging students to be actively engaged and responsible citizens. Civics has suffered from the swing in the pendulum to STEM content. We don’t have a level playing field today because most of the content on standardized tests is STEM content.”

Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha, who is a former teacher and principal, pointed out not only is it important to test the knowledge, but also is a way to heighten the youth engagement and apply what is learned to everyday life.

Representatives from the Elm Creek School District, just west of Kearney, who testified for the bill at the hearing, was a prime example. Elm Creek students all take the civics exam and are required to pass before graduating.

Audrey Worthing, a freshman from Elm Creek, started the idea as part of her FCCLA project to get the community more engaged. Now, Worthing is hoping what started in Elm Creek will be applied statewide.

“Civics plus your support equals a changed world,” Worthing told the Education Committee. “It’s as simple as two plus two equals four to have this mandated. Personally, tests do overwhelm students, but it will help you in everyday life. It will help lead to active citizenship.”

One of Worthing’s administrators, Elm Creek Superintendent Dean Tickle, backed up his school district’s decision to enforce the graduation requirement.

“We need to be fully aware of our liberties,” Tickle said. “It’s important to have an informed and engaged electorate.”

The Nebraska Association of School Boards was the main opponent of the bill, saying it disapproved of putting curriculum and graduation requirements together. The NASB wants the Legislature to allow the State Board of Education to do its job.


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