Eight states now require students to pass a civics test to receive a high school diploma, according to an Education Commission of the States (ECS) report updating the Civics Education Initiative, a two-year campaign led by the nonprofit Joe Foss Institute.
Specifically, the initiative’s organizers want states to adopt a test that draws questions from the 100 facts about U.S. history and government that immigrants need to know to pass a citizenship test. In all, 17 states have implemented this measure, even if they don’t require students to pass it for graduation.
Since 2015, when the campaign began, legislation related to civics education has failed in an additional 18 states, which the report’s authors attribute to a move away from high-stakes graduation tests and a concern that students would merely memorize facts to pass the test and not really develop “civic competencies.”
The 2016 presidential election created even more calls for strengthening students’ understanding of the U.S. political system and how to be engaged citizens. While many educators during the election season expressed hesitation over addressing the emotionally charged issues in the campaign, experts say there are still ways to prepare students to participate in politics and civic life.
This piece for the Harvard Graduate School of Education recommends devoting equal time to candidates’ platforms and educating students about political parties’ different views of government. The author also suggests that students analyze why people in different parts of the community vote the way they do.
The Center for Civic Education provides instructional resources for educators and administrators who want to increase the emphasis on civics in the classroom but don’t live in a state with a course or test requirement. ECS and the National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement also offer a guidebook with “proven practices” and where to find related resources.