By Joyce Rankin, Colorado Board of Education
“An informed citizenry is the heart of a dynamic democracy.”
Civics is the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. The United States Citizenship Civics Test is the test all immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship must pass. Unlike Colorado some states are requiring that students pass the test before receiving a high school diploma.
Currently only 24 percent of U.S. high school students are proficient in civics. Proficient is defined as “competent or skilled” however a passing grade in many states, and for those desiring citizenship is 60 percent, which, I believe is a pretty low bar. According to a recent study a third of all U.S. citizens can’t name even one branch of our federal government.* An organization called the Civics Education Initiative believes that high school students should be required to pass the 100 basic facts immigration test. I would add that if those entering our country need to earn a score of 60 percent, shouldn’t current citizens be able to answer all 100 of the questions correctly?
Under current Colorado law (C.R.S. 22-1-104), Colorado students are required to take and satisfactorily pass a Civics course to graduate from High School. Remarkably, in Colorado, this is the only graduation requirement in state law. The actual law states: The history and civil government of the state of Colorado shall be taught in all the public schools of this state. Note the word “shall” in this statement. It’s critical, when reading bills, to note “shall” as opposed to “may”. Both terms are used in bill writing and, of course, have very different meanings. You seldom see the word “shall” because Colorado is a local control state. This bill however states that history and civil government “shall”, or “will be”, taught. The bill goes on to state that: Satisfactory completion of a course on the civil government of the United States and the state of Colorado, (which includes the subjects described in subsection 2 including history, culture, and contributions of minorities, including, but not limited to, the American Indians, the Hispanic Americans, and the African Americans), shall be taught in all the public schools of the state.
In the previous paragraph you may have noticed that students are “required to take and satisfactorily pass” a Civics course. What does satisfactorily mean? That is left up to the school district. Some districts may require a higher standard to pass than others. Is one correct answer “satisfactorily passing”? It depends on your school district.
Some people believe that there are too many tests given to students and we can’t possibly add another. I believe that next to reading and math, being a good citizen should be the foundation of our educational system and our country. Our state should rise to the challenge and require high school graduates to not only be able to pass the test but understand the history and responsibilities behind the answers.
* There are three branches of Government: Legislative, Judicial and Executive.
Joyce Rankin, a retired teacher, is on the State Board of Education representing the Third Congressional District, which includes Saguache County. She writes the monthly column, “Across the Street” to share with constituents in her district. The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is located across the street from the Capitol.