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Bill would require 8th graders to take citizenship exam

What is the supreme law of the land? What did Susan B. Anthony do?

What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?

Who makes federal laws?

These are examples of questions taken from the civics portion of the U.S. naturalization test that would be asked to eighth-grade students in a required exam.

A proposed strike-everything amendment to S1404 would mandate that public and charter schools require that eighth-graders pass a civics test of at least 20 questions. Those questions would be taken from a portion of the exam given by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as a required step in the naturalization process.

The amendment passed the House Education Committee on April 5 with a 6-4 vote.

Sen. John Huppenthal, a Republican from Chandler, sponsored the bill.

He said the state needs to administer an exam that tests students on citizenship awareness, U.S. history, the U.S. Constitution and governmental procedures.

“It’s core information that every citizen should know and it’s definitely knowledge that every eighth-grader could obtain,” he said, adding that there would be a low-cost associated with the exam since
the state would not have to use financial resources to develop an entirely new assessment.

The bill would allow the school district governing boards and charter school sponsors to administer the test either by developing one general exam to be used by all schools or allowing each individual
school to create its own version. Schools would also be permitted to publish the questions that would be on the exam, as well as the answers, on the school Web site or handbook.

That provision raised questions from the Arizona School Administrators Association.

Mike Smith, legislative consultant for the group, said the exam is pointless if the answers are so readily available, especially since Huppenthal said there could be a process set up to allow for multiple chances for those who fail if it is implemented as a high-stakes test.

“As an eighth-grader, if you’re computer literate, you go there and you find the questions and the answers,” Smith said. “If they don’t pass it, we’ll let them presumably take it again and again and again, until they discover where the answers are.”

Smith said he was also concerned that the civics portion of the naturalization exam won’t be aligned with the state’s standards, and questions could be asked that eighth-graders either haven’t already
been taught or learned several years prior.

Janice Palmer, director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association, agreed with the goal of the bill, but was opposed because she said civics instruction should be relevant to what students are already learning so they can apply the information, rather than simply complete a test of 20 questions.

“The impetus behind this legislation is a very good one. We want to have an educated citizenry,” Palmer said. “I think we need a lot more work on this legislation to get at the goal of . good citizens moving forward out of our school system.”

There was a mixed reaction among representatives about requiring students to take a citizenship exam before passing eighth grade.

Rep. Rae Waters, a Phoenix Democrat, said the concept of American citizens taking a citizenship test did not sit well with her. But Rep. Nancy Barto, a Phoenix Republican, said she appreciated the innovative nature of the exam.

“It really is addressing the lack of understanding of how our country works and basic facts of what it means to be an American citizen,” Barto said.

Huppenthal said the exam is important because it raises the question of whether Arizona students know enough about the country to be good citizens.

“This is really pretty serious business when you’re talking about the culture of your country and the history and passing on to the next generation some sense of what America is all about,” he said. “(The
bill) is not saying if you don’t pass this test, you’re not entitled to be an American citizen.”

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