Civics Mandate Draft Being Circulated

A northern Wisconsin lawmaker is circulating a bill draft that would require successful completion of the civics portion of a citizenship test for high school graduation.  State Representative James Edming (R-Glen Fora) sent a memo to fellow lawmakers looking for support last week Friday.  After detailing recent polls where a high number of adult respondents cannot correctly answer certain civics questions the memo states:

To help counter this trend, I am introducing legislation that would require students at public, choice, and independent charter schools to pass a civics exam as a high school graduation requirement. Wisconsin high school students would take a simple, 100-question Immigration and Naturalization exam currently utilized by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services that would test their knowledge of government and history. A score of 60 would be needed for a student to pass and the test may be retaken until a passing score is obtained.

While the WASB supports the integration of comprehensive character education into school curricula to foster among students such traits as respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, caring, sense of justice and fairness, civic virtue and citizenship (Resolution 3.28), our delegate assembly has taken a clear stance on unfunded state mandates (Resolution 3.20).  The WASB opposes the implementation of any legislative mandates or administrative rules applicable to public school districts…unless they come with a legislative commitment by the state or federal government to permanently fund 100 percent of the actual cost.

This bill would require every public school district statewide to administer this exam to all of their high school students on top of the myriad of other testing already required by state and federal law. This will add to the loss of instructional time and add to the testing burden.

One may ask: Would it even make any difference?  Many adults knew things in high school that we have since forgotten because they aren’t integral to our everyday lives. The assumption is that these adults polled never knew certain facts about our system of government.  But what if they knew them in high school and have since forgotten?

The proposed “citizenship” test would also be a “high-stakes” test in that failure to pass the test would prevent a student from graduating high school or getting a GED. Wisconsin has never required student to pass a state test in order to graduate. An attempt to require such a graduation test in the late 1990s met with widespread opposition from many parents, especially suburban parents who worried how it would affect their children’s college admission chances, and ended up being dumped.

Back then, the Legislature, at the urging of then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, approved creating a test that all Wisconsin students would have to pass to get a high school diploma. Its general aim was to require students to show they could do 10th-grade work to graduate 12th grade.

But with rapidity the graduation test picked up a lot of opposition. There were (and are) substantial problems with the idea. How do you make a test that is fair and reliable? Isn’t taking classes and passing enough? And what about kids who just don’t do well on tests, or who have special education needs? The list could go on.

For a couple of years, the proposed graduation test stumbled around in the Legislature.  It finally died when it was decided the state didn’t have enough money to pay for it.