Arizona recently enacted a law that requires students to pass a U.S. citizenship exam in order to graduate from high school. Although it is the first state to require this, many other states like Indiana, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia may soon also require this of high school students.
Under the law, seniors will need to answer 60 of the 100 exam questions correctly in order to graduate from high school. The exam would include questions like, “What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?”
A few educators have complained about the law. They have reservations about requiring another standardized test. They argue that memorization of political facts will keep teachers from helping students develop a complex understanding of their world.
I would argue that we have needed such a requirement for some time. Currently voter turnout is at historical lows. A majority of Americans do not have a rudimentary grasp of government and the policy-making process. What we have been doing isn’t working.
All but ten states require students to take an American government class, but students’ knowledge about politics and government is obviously lacking. About two-thirds of students who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2006 and 2010 tested below proficient on the civics portion of the test.
A survey last year by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that a third of respondents could not name a single branch of the U.S. government. The same survey found that less than a quarter knew what it takes for Congress to override a presidential veto.
It only makes sense that we ask graduating seniors to pass a citizenship test that we require of anyone who wants to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. Sadly some of our newest citizens in America know more about our history and our government than young people who have lived here their whole lives. That is why other states should follow the example set by Arizona.