<< The Body Politic

Civics in Tennessee

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Tennesee capitolLast year, the Tennessee legislature passed a law that requires school districts in the state to test students’ civic knowledge at least once while students are in grades 4–8 and at least once while they are in grades 9–12. According to a new report released by the state’s comptroller’s office, “the legislation is significant because it is the first time the state has required an assessment for civics.” Further, the report emphasizes, this latest requirement for testing is also significant because of how it mandates that the testing take place: “(1) [the assessments] will not be standardized tests developed by vendors according to state-determined specifications, but instead are to be developed and implemented by school districts, and (2) they are required to be project-based.”

The report continues:

Project-based assessments differ considerably from the multiple choice format that dominates most standardized testing. Project-based learning involves student-driven projects that are both central to the curriculum and rooted in the “real world,” involving complex tasks based on challenging questions or problems. Students work to develop solutions that could actually be employed to address the issue being studied. . . .

Advocates of an increased focus on civic learning in schools suggest that three broad categories of student outcomes should be addressed:

    • civic knowledge (familiarity with government institutions),
    • civic skills (analytical skills necessary to reason about public issues), and
    • civic dispositions (participation in community affairs).

The categories are widely accepted among educators and form the basis on which the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Civics assessment was constructed. . . . Advocates acknowledge that assessing students’ acquisition of these desired outcomes, particularly civic skills and dispositions, can be difficult. According to an analysis by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), multiple choice and short answer tests are useful measures for assessing students’ basic civics knowledge, but measuring civic skills and dispositions requires alternate forms of assessment. The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, which commissioned the CIRCLE analysis, “strongly recommends states and districts utilize more authentic assessment instruments that measure students’ civic skills and dispositional growth,” in the form of portfolio, classroom-based, and performance assessments.

As we’ve noted before, only eight states currently test students on American government or civics, so Tennessee’s new assessment requirements are leading the field in the testing of civic education.

Read more about the Tennessee civic education assessments here.