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North Dakota, South Dakota OK new policies on civics education

by Tim Anderson ~ May 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
How many amendments does the U.S. Constitution have? How old do citizens have to be to vote for presidents? How many U.S. senators are there?
Those are among the 100 questions that new immigrants study and learn before taking the test to become a U.S. citizen. Now, some state legislatures are considering proposals to require students to pass the citizenship test in order to graduate from high school.
Earlier this year, North Dakota became the second U.S. state to pass such a requirement. Under HB 1087, members of the high school class of 2017 must score at least 60 percent on the 100-question citizenship test. In following school years, students must answer 70 percent of the questions correctly.
In South Dakota, legislators unanimously adopted a concurrent resolution (SCR 6) that directs the state Department of Education to incorporate questions from the citizenship test into the curriculum for the mandatory course in high school government.
Every state in the Midwest, in fact, requires that high school students receive instruction or take a course in American government or civics. But the Civics Education Initiative is pushing for new laws around the country that make passage of the citizenship test a prerequisite for high school graduation. A total of five U.S. states have adopted some version of the law.
In April, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of eighth-graders’ performance on the civics portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Twenty-three percent of them scored at or above “proficient”: demonstrating solid academic performance and competency over challenging subject matter. Twenty-six percent of the eighth-graders scored “below basic.” The results for 2014 were a very slight improvement over student scores from 2010.
“This is our future, the next generation of leaders, the ones whose votes will decide the direction of this country for decades to come,” says Frank Riggs, president and CEO of the Joe Foss Institute, which created the Civics Education Initiative in 2014.
“We have to make sure our kids understand how our government works, and what their responsibilities for it are.”