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What would a national civics standard look like?

In The Atlantic, Robert Pondiscio, executive director of CitizenshipFirst, suggests that a ground-floor civics standard that must be met by all graduating students from high school is in order—and that the US Citizenship Test is just the place to start. Writing shortly after the release of his white paper for the Pioneer Institute (coauthored with Gilbert T. Sewall and Sandra Stotsky)—“Shortchanging the Future: The Crisis of History and Civics in American Schools”—Pondiscio laments the crisis in civic education and civic knowledge today, but thinks that setting a modest standard like the Citizenship Test would be more helpful than establishing more high-stakes testing or overhauling state standards.

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Civics in Tennessee

Last 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.”

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Testing civics

At Education Week, Nora Fleming explores the results of CIRCLE’s recent report examining the civics-related standards, assessments, and course requirements of all 50 states. (We covered the release of the report here.) After noting that the report found that very few states test civics in a meaningful way, Fleming considers what the next steps are for educators.

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New CIRCLE research confirms: civic education lacking in most states

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) has just released a report that analyzes the standards, course requirements, and mandatory assessments relevant to civic education in all 50 states.

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State testing and social studies

We reported earlier this month that states are beginning to add accountability measures for subjects other than just the federally-required testing in math and reading. Colorado and Oklahoma, for example, plan to add social studies to their assessments. Last week, Maryland joined the group when Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that will require high school seniors–beginning with the class of 2017–to pass a test in government to graduate from high school.

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Accountability for social studies?

Over at Education Week, Erik Robelen writes that “as states seek waivers under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, one effect may be to chip away at the dominance reading and math have had when it comes to school accountability.”

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Truant From School: History, Science, and Art

We’ve noted before that many teachers think that the emphasis on testing in language arts and math is crowding out learning in other subject areas such as civics and social studies. For our friends in the D.C . area, later this week Common Core will be hosting a panel discussion on the topic.

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A Step in the Right Direction

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.

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