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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Arizona Adopts Civics Standard for Teens

PHOENIX (CN) - Asked and received. A civics requirement for high school students that the governor of Arizona requested Monday passed both houses of the state Legislature and became law Thursday evening.

Adopted in the first week of a new session, the so-called American Civics Act makes Arizona the first state in the country to have high school students pass a civics test similar to what immigrants seeking citizenship face.

Gov. Doug Ducey confirmed on his Twitter account that he signed the law Thursday evening. The Republican governor called for the law in his inaugural state-of-the-state speech on Jan. 12, echoing former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's statement that students' lack of basic civics knowledge is a "quiet crisis in education."

Ducey had cited education surveys showing that 96 percent of Arizona students know very little about civics.

"It measured some basic knowledge among students, on matters where knowledge should be assumed," Ducey said. "It was an elementary civics test, along the lines of the test required of every new citizen. And when 96 percent of our kids could not pass, you know something is missing."

Nationally, some two-thirds of students tested below "proficient" on the civics portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in both 2006 and 2010, Arizona House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro noted on Thursday, adding that "92 percent of immigrants who take the test pass it on their first try."

Montenegro said that 12 other states are considering legislation similar to that of Arizona's, which will go into effect in the 2016-17 school year.

Students will be allowed to take the test "on the first day of high school or the last day, and as many times as necessary to pass and schools will be allowed to administer it as they see fit," Montenegro said.

They will have to score a 60 percent or better grade on the test to graduate.

According to the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), just 24 percent of high school seniors scored at or above "proficient" in civics. Some 64 percent performed at or above the level of "basic" knowledge.

To perform at the "proficient" level, 12th graders must be able field questions such as, "Define the term 'melting pot' and argue if it applies to the U.S." The 12th grade test has 153 questions, divided into eight, 25-minute sections containing a "mixture of multiple-choice and constructed-response questions."

"Twelfth-grade students performing at the proficient level should have a good understanding of how constitutions can limit the power of government and support the rule of law," according to the 2010 NAEP. "They should be able to distinguish between parliamentary systems of government and those based on separate and shared powers, and they should be able to describe the structure and functions of American government."

"Basic" knowledge of civics, according to the assessment, includes an understanding that "constitutional governments can take different forms, and they should understand the fundamental principles of American constitutional government. These students should be able to explain ways that political parties, interest groups, and the media contribute to elections, and they should be able to point out sources of information about public policy issues."

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