Passage of Citizenship Civics Test May Become a Prerequisite for Earning High School Diploma in TN

The Tennessee General Assembly will be one of several state legislative bodies this year to consider requiring that, in order to graduate, high school students pass the same civics test that immigrants take to earn U.S citizenship.

Gerald McCormick, the state’s House majority leader, is sponsoring the bill. Too many kids are graduating high school who “don’t have a basic understanding of their government and of their country and of their state.”

“I think it’s important that high school students go out into the world somewhat informed about their government, so that they’ll be more likely to become active in the community,” the Chattanooga Republican told TNReport this week. He added it would be “a very basic requirement that reflects what our new immigrants coming into the country have to know.”

Oftentimes new immigrants seem more knowledgeable about American history and government than people born and raised here, McCormick said. “And probably a lot of them are more appreciative of the opportunities here, because they’ve seen places where they don’t have the types of opportunities that we have here, and we take them for granted sometimes.”

The legislation — HB0010/SB0010 — would require students who attend and graduate high school after January 1, 2016, to pass the 100 question civics exam by getting at least 60 questions right. Schools would be required to provide as many opportunities as needed for each student to pass.

According to the bill’s official summary, “No student may receive a regular high school diploma unless the student has passed the test.”

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris is sponsoring the legislation as well.

An editorial from the right side of the Chattanooga Times Free Press opinion page lauded the legislation, pointing to the abysmal answers by average Americans to U.S. History trivia questions on the “Jaywalking” segment of Jay Leno’s TV show.

Additionally, at least seven other states will likely consider similar legislation this year.  States where legislation was announced last fall include Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.

The legislation has been pushed by the Civics Education Initiative, a partnership between the Joe Foss Institute and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, which launched its effort to encourage better civics education for American students on Constitution Day, Sept. 17, 2014.

  • Joe White

    Dumber than a box of rocks. I taught this course to Nepali-language speakers for a couple of years. The test is designed to be an oral exam, with ten questions randomly chosen out of a possible 100. The question is oral, and the test-taker must come up with the answer from memory. It is as much a matter of understanding and speaking English as it is civics.
    Passing score is six answers out of ten. If you make all high school seniors take the test, you have to convert it to a written, standardized format, probably multiple choice.
    Example:
    What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States?
    a. Atlantic
    b. Pacific
    c. Arctic
    d. Lake Superior
    See the problem? Once you reduce it to writing and put it in front of native English speakers, it’s a slam dunk. It proves nothing.
    Here’s an option: Introduce a six weeks, or four weeks, review of practical civics … difference between county sheriff and city police jurisdiction, difference between misdemeanor citation and an actual arrest, what kinds of cases go to civil court, what kind to criminal court, how the bail bond system operates, What information is stored with your driver’s license files, proper response to a search warrant, when to insist on one, history of voter enfranchisement, role of the executive branch, role of the legislative and judicial branches, typical duties of cities, of counties, of states. At least they’d know who to call with a stray dog complaint …..

  • tom hensley

    We better be sure to grandfather the Tn General Assembly.