- In a letter to state lawmakers, Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart ruled last week that delaying entrance to the civics course until 8th grade was an “educationally sound” decision rather than an attempt to “game” Florida’s A-F school grading system, which uses results of an end-of-grade (EOG) middle school civics course as one of the criteria, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
- After an initial complaint from the president of the Florida Coalition of School Board members, some lawmakers had accused several school districts of keeping some 7th graders from taking civics until 8th grade in order to improve scores on the civics EOG, which is typically given in 7th grade.
- In her response, Stewart noted that Florida law only requires that the course be taken at some point during middle school and that allowing some students to delay entrance into the course until reading skills and social studies knowledge improved boosted their chances of success in the course.
The civics test controversy in Florida illustrates once again the pressures associated with high-stakes testing. In this case, lawmakers were concerned that some school districts were behaving in an unethical manner in order to improve test scores, an arguably valid concern since similar instances have happened before. Instead, the education commissioner pointed out the value of delaying the study of certain subjects until students are ready to learn the material presented, a situation than can vary from student to student.
Most states that require civics include it as a high school course rather than in middle school. However, while every state encourages some form of civics or social studies as a requirement for graduation, as of December 2016, only 17 states included civics education in their accountability frameworks, according to the Education Commission of the States. Florida is one state that does. Florida’s decision to include civic scores in its accountability measures and to teach it in middle school came about through the efforts of the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, which helped encourage passage of the Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Education Act in 2010.
Many states and school districts began to de-emphasize civics education during the No Child Left Behind era, when the focus on math, reading and science testing increased. However, concerns over the fact that many Americans know relatively little about the government they help to create with each election cycle has prompted more states to try to restore that focus in recent years. Since the public school system in America was originally created to help prepare the citizenry for the important role they play in American government, it seems that civics education should remain a primary goal. But school leaders should also be sensitive to students' readiness to absorb the content.