Civics exam would be required for graduation

Mastery of civic education would be required for high school graduates under a bill heard by the Education Committee Feb. 16.

LB868, introduced by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, would require all high school students to pass a 100-question civics examination based on the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services’ naturalization test.

Krist said only 4 percent of high school students in Arizona and Oklahoma could successfully pass the examination.

“When voters reach out to [the Legislature] and share opinions they’re displaying engagement on issues that impact their families, businesses and communities,” he said. “If students don’t understand how the government works at the most basic level, how can we expect them to [understand] the importance of voting and engaging in the political process?”

Each school district would determine how the test would be administered. Students could take the test at any time after enrolling in ninth grade and would be able to repeat it as many times as necessary to pass.

Lucian Spataro, representing the Joe Foss Institute, supported the bill. The institute promotes civic education and designed a version of the test that could be administered under LB868.

“Unfortunately few American students understand the basic facts about our government, its formation and how it works,” Spataro said. “[LB868] would help put civics back on the front burner, where it belongs, so our students can graduate and become civically engaged adults.”

Audrey Worthing, a high school freshman from Elm Creek, also testified in support of the bill.

“Many adults think my generation is apathetic, self-centered and disconnected, but we’re not,” she said. “Requiring students to pass a citizenship test is the first step that shows [that the Legislature] believes civic education is a priority.”

Karen Graff, a retired educator representing the Nebraska State Council for Social Studies, opposed LB868. She said the test would be simple to administer and score, but would not necessarily create a more engaged citizenry.

“We acknowledge that requiring students to take the test may help illustrate content and the process immigrants take to become citizens,” she said. “However, if we truly want to engage students in active citizenship, teachers in the classrooms need to encourage students to engage in critical thinking skills.”

The examination requirement would apply to students beginning with the 2017-2018 graduating class.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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