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Statewide civics test? Local teachers talk civic education as state lawmakers considers mandatory citizenship test

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington Middle School social studies teachers were not surprised when most of their students did not pass a short version of the U.S. citizenship test last year.

WORTHINGTON - Worthington Middle School social studies teachers were not surprised when most of their students did not pass a short version of the U.S. citizenship test last year. 

“(Civics) is a huge part of their social development,” said Scott Barber, a seventh-grade teacher at WMS. “They will be someday leading the community and the country, so it’s important that they understand how it all works.
“It connects them to the community and to a common cause,” he continued.
The issue also has Minnesota state legislators worried. The Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate legislators drafted two bills that would require high school students to pass the 100-point test to obtain a diploma. Students would pass the test if they answered 60 of the questions correctly, and their score would be recorded on their transcripts.
Five years ago, WMS students were required to take a civics class, but it was taken out of the curriculum the following year to make way for state-required history and global studies classes.
In past civic classes, local officials, such as the mayor, spoke to students about community values through volunteering.
“It used to be really fun for them because sometimes their parents would have to take the citizenship test and they would help them study,” said Sally Darling, chair of the WMS social studies department.
She even had one student take the test not just for class, but to become a citizen.
Students are still eager to be involved in their communities, and a civics class would help them learn the values of what it means to be a citizen, Barber said.

He noted that the school’s student council membership is expanding.
Through informal assessments, it was apparent to the teachers that the students needed to take a civics class.
The pilot test confirmed to the social studies teachers that middle school students did not understand topics such as the Constitution.
“They aren’t getting the content without direct instruction,” Darling said. However, the required state-mandated social studies classes have the social studies syllabus completely filled.
“We don’t have a lot of time to include civics in our curriculum because of the volume of content that we have to cover,” Darling said. “(But) we see (civics) as what the community needs us to teach.”
Social studies teachers are excited to finally be able to teach a nine-week civics class to students next year. Before and after the students take the course, they will take a short citizenship test to assess if they learned anything.
“We fully expect to see growth on the tests,” Barber said.
The school also facilitates other events to teach the student body citizenship values that include hosting mock elections and planning optional trips to Washington, D.C.
Regarding the state legislature, Darling and Barber both said it may be a stepping stone to the state requiring students to take a civics class.
“We understand the critics that say it’s another test - our students do get tested a lot,” Darling said, adding that the department would rather students take a civics class than a civics test to graduate.
“We would just like to have a civics class for students,” she said.
Nine states have laws similar to the legislation being considered in Minnesota, including the neighboring states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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