Civics now required to earn Arkansas high school diploma

Civics now required to earn Arkansas high school diploma

(Ark.) Students must now earn at least a D on the same civics exam administered to naturalizing immigrants in order to earn a high school diploma in Arkansas.

Public schools were given the greenlight Monday to begin using the test, but some educators worry that the test could lead to the same rote memorization that has plagued other subjects with high stakes testing.

“As someone who teaches civics every day, I just have deep concerns about whether this is the way to do civics education,” Jay Barth, a professor at Hendrix College, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “I think there unquestionably is a basic knowledge component to the understanding of civics, but there is also a component of civics that's really about deeper learning and thinking more critically about these mechanisms of democracy.”

Efforts to resuscitate civics education in the classroom quickly gained popularity among state lawmakers as studies began to show a lack of foundational knowledge among adults and high school students of things like the Declaration of Independence.

Results of a 2016 Annenberg Public Policy Center poll show that about 70 percent of adults were unable to even name all three branches of government, and approximately that same amount also believed that a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court could be appealed. Furthermore, almost 40 percent of participants said that the president has the power to declare war.

In 2015, Arizona became the first state to pass the Civics Education Initiative by requiring high school students to pass a civics test to graduate, with questions drawn from the same test immigrants to the country must pass for naturalization.

Despite a national push to make civics a more prominent subject, bills that would have required students to pass a civics test to graduate failed in 18 states between 2015 and 2017, according to an analysis from the Colorado-based Education Commission of the States and the Joe Foss Institute, a civics-focused nonprofit based in Arizona.

Arkansas is currently one of 10 states–including Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, West Virginia, Tennessee and Wisconsin–that require students to pass a civics exam before earning their diploma.

Under a bill signed last year, students must answer at least 60 of the 100-question test correctly to graduate– something the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, has said shouldn’t be too difficult, considering 60 percent is just barely a D-grade.

The questions will be pulled from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization civics test that immigrants must pass to become legal citizens. The exam can be taken more than once, should students not pass the first time.

The test is broken down into nine sections, and is not timed. Schools can decide if they want to administer it in one sitting or split it up into each section.

As of Monday, districts can offer the exam to high school juniors and seniors.

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