Students and teachers disagree on mandatory civics test

Friday , February 27, 2015 - 2:14 PM

By CALEB LARKIN
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY – Lawmakers unanimously passed a bill that requires students in Utah to pass a civics test to graduate high school, but students and teachers at Northridge High School in Layton aren’t so sure they want such a test.

SB60 requires public students to pass the same civics test required for those applying for U.S. citizenship. The bill passed the Senate floor and unanimously through the House Education Committee Monday, Feb. 24, for final consideration on the House floor.

Students affected by the bill showed support for requiring the test. Andrew Achter, 18, from Northridge High School, also supports the bill. “I think it’s a good idea because we ought to expect the same thing from our citizens as we do from people becoming citizens,” said Achter.

However Achter will graduate in June, before the legislation would come into effect. Achter still said, “It would be fine with me if I had to pass this test before I graduate.”

Rebecca Both, a junior at Cyprus High School, took and passed the test on her own. She spoke in the committee meeting in favor of the bill.

“It’s what we need to know and its basic knowledge. I support this (bill),” said Both.

Many students are aware of the bill and have taken the test already. Rachel Parson, 17, a junior also at Northridge said her entire class took the test.

“Almost no one passed. So I think it’s good for the students. I did not know all the questions. If immigrants have to take it to become citizens than why shouldn’t we when we are citizens,” said Parson. “After we took the test and I got my answers back, I was surprised because I feel like I should have been taught most of what was on the test, but I don’t think I have.”

Teachers expressed concerns about the mandatory test. David Seiter, a U.S. history and government teacher of 42 years, said, “Relying graduation on one test presents problems from an educational standpoint. Research shows dropout rate increases when one item is a contingent to graduation.” Seiter, who teaches at Northridge High, also expressed concerns of addressing how those with behavioral and learning disabilities would take the test.

Kandee Butters, a history teacher at Northridge, had similar concerns. “One of my biggest concerns is: what is the purpose of this bill? Are we saying that if they pass this test that they are citizens? As much as I think it’s important to know this type of information, it shouldn’t be weighted any more heavily than any other subject.”

Melissa Moss, a Northridge special needs teacher, said, “I think a lot of them (students) have a hard time with civics and history in the first place.” She voiced specific concerns for resource and special needs students. “I can see it as a possible unnecessary restriction to some students.”

Teachers did support the changes in second substitute of the bill which reduced the test to 50 questions and the pass percentage at 70 percent. The substitute was also changed to allow all public education students, even those not yet in high school, to take the test for graduation credit effective July 1, 2015.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, presented statistics to show the need for a basic understand in civics. A recent survey found that 85 percent did not know the meaning of the rule of law. 82 percent could not name two rights in the Declaration of Independence. 75 percent were unable to correctly answer the question, what does the judiciary branch do. 71 percent weren’t able to identify the constitution as the supreme law of the land.

“I think it’s totally fair. It’s like a freebee because we were born here and so we didn’t have to take the test. It’s stuff we need to know,” said Parson.

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