Add One More Test to the List?

The state of Colorado recently defeated 17-18 a bill that would have required all high school seniors to pass a citizenship test.
By Tara Higgins

With the 2016 presidential election looming, and high school juniors and seniors registering to vote, the question of political apathy comes to surface. Are today’s youth qualified enough to vote, and do they have the knowledge it takes to make an informed decision?

Senate Bill 148 clearly disagreed. It proposed requiring all high school students to pass the civics portion of the citizenship test administered to all those wishing to be naturalized in the United States. Bipartisan support draws on recent survey results indicating that only roughly one-third of the U.S. population can name all three branches of government. By contrast, about two-thirds of Americans vote in national elections. Colorado lawmakers have drafted SB 148 with the intention of ensuring that today’s voting population knows enough to exercise their most basic of rights.

“I would like high school students to be engaged in politics and government, have a high sense of political efficacy, and have a solid understanding of the American political system,” said AP and U.S. Government teacher Jacob Erisman, “but I don’t think a required civics test would contribute any more to these ends than a semester-long government class.”

Questions on the test range from simpler questions testing students’ knowledge of the first American president, which oceans border which coasts, to those asking for a list of Native American tribes and which presidents presided over which wars.

A semester’s credit of U.S. government is already required for graduation here in Douglas County School District, and many students even opt for the year-long AP credit. The basic fundamentals of civics are already covered in the class, but SB 148 would add to the list of compulsory standardized tests.

Should Coloradans have to pass the U.S. citizenship test to graduate from high school? Critics argue that the test is too easy, considering most high-school level government classes cover much more in-depth knowledge, particularly AP, and should therefore be more indicative of the student’s grasp of the subject material. But proponents pushed for the bill’s passage, contending that if naturalized citizens must pass the test, so should natural-born citizens.

The experience of preparing for and taking a standardized test can contribute to students’ academic and professional readiness,” Erisman said, but “reading the politics section of the NY Times or Washington Post every day is probably more valuable than passing a 100-question test.”

To no surprise, current government students clearly opposed the idea. Surveying U.S. Government classes, most agree that the overwhelming amount of standardized testing already imposed upon students, from ACT to SAT to AP, is more than enough.

They will be pleased to learn the bill was struck down 17-18 in a close vote. For now, it appears that the basic graduation requirements are enough –  or at least, for now.


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