Civics test becomes law at warp speed

Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Avondale, talks with reporters Thursday after the House Government and Higher Education Committee approved his bill to require Arizona high school students to pass the same civics test given to new citizens.
Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Avondale, talks with reporters Thursday after the House Government and Higher Education Committee approved his bill to require Arizona high school students to pass the same civics test given to new citizens.

Report and photo by Hunter Marrow | Cronkite News

What is freedom of religion? Who was president during the Great Depression and World War II? How many justices are on the U.S. Supreme Court?

Every Arizona high school student will have to answer those and other civics questions correctly to graduate under legislation signed into law Thursday by Gov. Doug Ducey.

The bill, which Ducey called for in his State of the State Address on Monday, made it from House and Senate committees to the governor’s desk in one day despite objections from some lawmakers and advocates for schools that it constitutes an unfunded mandate.

Dubbed the American Civics Act, the measure will make high school students pass the same civics test required of new citizens with a score of 60 percent or better to gain the social studies credit necessary for graduation.

The change, which will take effect during the 2016-1017 school year, is contained in a bill authored by House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, R-Avondale.

“The heart of this bill is that every student in Arizona should know basic knowledge and fundamental facts and have an understanding of American government and civics,” Montenegro told members of the House Government and Higher Education Committee, which advanced the measure on a 6-2 vote.

Montenegro cited data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, compiled by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, suggesting that two-thirds of students tested below proficiency on the civics portion of tests given in fourth, eighth and 12th grades.

Some lawmakers said they were concerned about the speed with which the bill was being passed and how schools would implement the change.

 

“One of my concerns about the bill is cost-related as well,” said Rep. John Ackerley, R-Sahuarita. “My concern is on the tail end of it as to data-tracking. I work in a district that struggles immensely with its data information system.”

Joe Thomas, vice president of the Arizona Education Association and a high school social studies teacher, told the House committee he’s concerned about the change’s impact on student retention.

“A test by itself will not drive engagement,” Thomas said. “Activities in the classroom, activities we learned years ago through a program called History Alive, makes history engaging.

The bill passed the House 42-17, while the Senate passed an identical version 19-10. The versions were then merged.

On the House floor, Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, said he’s tired of comedians making fun of the nation’s education system. He scoffed at those who complained that the change amounts to an unfunded mandate.

“Google is an unfunded mandate? Give me a break,” he said.

From the test:

(Answers below)

  1. How many amendments does the Constitution have?
  2. What happened at the Constitutional Convention?
  3. Who was the President during World War I?
  4. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
  5. What is the supreme law of the land?

Answers:

(1) 27

(2) the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution

(3) Woodrow Wilson

(4) Thomas Jefferson

(5) the Constitution

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