<< The Body Politic

A Step in the Right Direction

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

In February, Jay Mathews over at the Washington Post‘s Education Blog had a spot-on post in response to the state of Maryland’s plan to get rid of its annual High School Assessment test in government. Maryland plans to scrap the test because it’s not federally required and costs $1.9 million a year to administer. Mathews, noting “the fact that many teachers don’t like the state tests that have been imposed on them and their students,” finds it significant that these same teachers are crying out for the test to be saved: “Maryland’s social studies teachers have many complaints about the HSA government exam, but those who wrote to me say it is better than not having a test.”

This is a trend we’ve found as well: as much as many teachers have misgivings about the test-heavy environment of today’s schools, it’s even worse for your subject not to be tested. Indeed, in last year’s report, we found that 70 percent of high school social studies think that social studies has become a lower priority for school administrators because of the pressure to show testing progress in math and language arts.

Just a few months after Mathews’s post, Maine passed a law heading in the opposite direction of Maryland: according to the Associated Press, Maine Gov. Paul LePage signed into law a bill requiring all students to pass a course in civics and government in order to graduate from high school.

Given how widely high school social studies and civics teachers think their field is not taken seriously by state administrators–and how unfortunately right they are to think this–Maine’s new law is a step in the right direction. We hope other states will follow its lead and begin to give civic education much needed attention.