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Requiring High School Students To Pass The Citizenship Exam; The Debate Comes To Indiana

Alberto G.

Requiring high school students to pass the same exam as those seeking US citizenship is a cause du jour for some lawmakers around the country, and Indiana is no exception.

The House Education Committee held a hearing on a bill from Rep. Timothy Wesco (R, Osceola) that would require high school students to pass the 100-question civics exam before graduation.  Students would get as many attempts as needed to pass the test with a score of 60-percent or higher, though students would be responsible for the cost of the exam after taking it the first time.  "We want our students to grow up to be engaged citizens in our government, in our local government, at every level," Wesco said, adding that he decided to sponsor the bill after the record-low turnout for midterm elections in Indiana last year.
No vote was taken by the committee on the exam, with the chairman of the committee, Rep. Bob Behning (R, Indianapolis) supportive of the bill's goal of education about government but leery of adding another standardized test for students.  "I appreciate (Wesco) bringing this together.  I wish we could figure out another way, maybe ISTEP should be more focused on that, or (state education) standards, but I do think it is worthy to be discussed," Behning said.  Some critics of the bill say the state's standards, which were just put in place this school year, already cover the material in the civics exam.  "Grades 5, 8 and 12 are all grades in which civics education and much, if not all of the content in this 100-question test are covered," said John Barnes, lobbyist for the state Department of Education - state Superintendent Glenda Ritz opposes the new exam. 
Other critics say forcing a new test onto students won't help them love their country, or participate in the political process when they get older.  "(Our generation) understood what America was about," said Rep. Vernon Smith, the only Democrat on the Education Committee, saying his teachers took the time to teach about love of country. "I think because we have gone to so much test craziness that we have caused teachers not to focus on some of those things."
Indiana is one of at least 18 states considering a required civics exam for graduation.  Last week, Arizona because the first state in the US to pass the proposal into law.