Monday, March 21, 2016

Colorado Should Reject "Civics/Citizenship Test" as Graduation Requirement

Just when you thought Colorado had gained some sanity around standardized testing, a lone state senator caves to pressure from an out-of-state organization and introduces a completely unnecessary new bill which would mandate that all high school students pass a "civics/citizenship" test as a graduation requirement. This bill could not be a bigger waste of time for the state legislature, and Coloradans should call upon their state legislators and the Governor to reject Sen Owen Hill's bill HB148 and the idea of a civics/citizenship test as a graduation requirement in Colorado. 

While on the surface, this required test seems innocuous or even "a good idea," it's a problem for myriad reasons, not the least of which is we don't diminish a student's entire academic body of work to the result of a single standardized test, regardless of subject. Even the pro-testing Denver Post has editorialized against this bill. Colorado already requires that students pass a government class, and a standardized test neither proves nor guarantees anything in regards to a person being an informed or astute citizen. Exit exams only assess arbitrary factual knowledge and provide no measure of the type of critical thinking we expect of an educated electorate.

Additionally, it's important to know that opposition to this civics/citizenship is not simply about "over-testing." That is certainly an issue, as it creates a slippery slope toward an increasing battery of tests. The more serious issue, though, is the significance placed on this test. No single test should act as a graduation requirement - grad requirements consist of myriad subjects and skills with thousands of hours of class time and credits. And CDE has spent years developing the 2021 requirements that contain mulitple pathways to demonstrate proficiency across curricula. Placing one test above all that is ridiculous. Sen Owen Hill is simply bowing to pressure from an out-of-state organization that is pushing this agenda nationwide. There was no statewide interest in such a bill, and now the Senator is wasting the time and money of the state with this silly idea.

And, let's be clear: being able to cite the Mississippi River as one of the longest rivers or knowing that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence will not make citizens more informed voters. Ultimately, this bill is a diversion and a red herring in terms of assessing education. Certainly, it's easy to make the case that an educated person should probably have the same knowledge about American government that aspiring citizens do. But, then again, what does knowledge of a river's length really say about knowledge of civics?

As it stands, there are far more serious issues facing public education. Senator Hill should be focusing on narrowing the negative factor or finding funding for great programs like Blocks of Hope. He should be scrutinizing CDE's mishandling of the ACT/SAT decision. He should be out promoting the success of students at State MathCounts and State Speech and Debate and Destination Imagination and State Science Fair. He should be expanding support for the arts, and addressing school safety issues in response to the Claire Davis bill. He should be doing numerous things other than wasting the time of legislators, the media, and school administrators with this silly and arbitrary bill.

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