An Educator’s Take on the Civics Test

can_you_pass_an_8th_grade_civics_testArizona passed a law last year called the American Civics Act. It sounds real noble: All students must demonstrate knowledge of civics — facts about history and government — in order to graduate from high school.

Arizona is a trendsetter. A pioneer in the wilderness of American education. Already, the push is on for other states to enact similar laws.

The logic went like this. People should be more knowledgeable about history and government. New citizens must take a “naturalization” test demonstrating some basic knowledge about America. Shouldn’t our high school students demonstrate the same basic knowledge?


Who knew? All of this time, the failures in our education system, the problem of uninformed citizens, low voter turnout…

All we needed was a 100 question multiple choice test.

Because it includes all the essentials of civics, like: “What year was the constitution written?” and “What is one of the longest rivers in the U.S?

Other questions are mind-numbing: “Who was the first president?” Or insultingly simplistic: “What did Martin Luther King Jr. do?”

And thank God they included this question: “What is the deadline for filing federal income tax forms?” I mean, how have Americans been paying taxes all these years without having been held accountable by this test?

We don’t want to create a barrier to high school graduation, though. So you pass if you score 60%. You can re-take the test as many times as you need. No problem.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, an advocate of the law, was thrilled when a 16-year old developed a study app for the test. Real innovation, and an important tool to help students graduate from high school.

Except that the test itself is online. The first link when you google “Arizona Civics Test” is a link to the actual test and the answers.

The reality on the ground here in schools is that the civics test is a complete joke. It serves the dual purpose of wasting instruction time from the very subjects you pretend to care about, and forcing underpaid, overworked educators to print, proctor, grade, and document the scores for all students.

Here’s a more serious 60% figure for you. Beginning last school year, 60% of Arizona public schools reported unfilled teaching spots. There is a shortage of teachers in this state.

The main reasons people don’t go into teaching, or leave teaching after a short stint:

  1. Low pay, high stress
  2. Lack of respect, lack of support
  3. Forcing us to do meager tasks that don’t improve learning

I work at an Arizona public charter high school. By law I am qualified to teach government and American history. Students are required to pass both classes to graduate. There are already state standards on what should be taught.

Based on professional experience, I believe the civics test will have approximately zero impact on student learning. I would wage decent money that, measured at any time after graduation day, the class of 2016, who didn’t take the test, would demonstrate the same understanding of civics as the class of 2017, who will.

Even if the measure of “understanding” was the same crappy 100 question multiple choice test.


Author: Billy

High school teacher and blogger.

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