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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Citizenship is not a test

Gov. Doug Ducey championed a new measure in his State of the State speech to require all high school graduates to pass a civics test before receiving their diploma.

The legislation proposes to administer the same 100-question test used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials for new citizens to students, who must score at least a 60 percent to graduate.

Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, is critical of the validity of the measure’s promise to make students into better citizens.

“The heart of citizenship is that commitment to one another. … Citizenship is much more than measuring things,” he told The Arizona Republic.

I question the Arizona legislature’s ability to implement any test on students’ knowledge effectively without even consulting their teachers. No adult knows the kind of education students receive better than those who spend each day in the classroom with them. Standardized tests are meant to be tools to teachers, not arbitrary benchmarks that must be passed. They must be collaborations with the people who can really change the way students learn.

“I’m not opposed to the test, necessarily,” said Samara Klar, assistant professor of political science and a Canadian citizen who plans to take the citizenship test. “I don’t think it’s more arbitrary than any question on the SATs. The SAT itself … is sort of an arbitrary test in my mind, with biased results. Minorities are sometimes disadvantaged in taking the test for cultural reasons, for example.”

Klar understands the reasoning behind such a test.

“I’m just not sure if any one test can include what everyone thinks a student should know to be a good citizen,” she said, stressing the relevance of the content. “Does the test really measure what it is that you want it to measure? I think it’s impossible to do [that] in a test, particularly in a brief one like [the civics test]. It’s very difficult to know exactly what should be in there — and I think anyone would agree.”

“The education debate should not be over whether students spend too must time testing, but on which tests are actually useful to teachers and improving instruction,” wrote Celine Coggins, a parent, former teacher and CEO of Teach Plus, in an op-ed piece for the Christian Science Monitor. “Then we need to make district, state, and federal policy decisions based on this information.”

She urges the importance of teachers as conductors of information, for which tests could be a useful tool to gauge the level of learning occurring in classrooms. If only state legislators were familiar with this teacher-informed perspective on testing before they voted for more testing on an immeasurable number of subjects.

Teach Plus published a report in 2014 on the amount of time students spend taking tests, and the report concluded in favor of shifting the national conversation toward a discourse centered on the quality and effectiveness of standardized testing. This is not possible without consulting the educators directly involved, who published vital information on education months before the new legislation was passed. Had this report been considered, or had the voices of the leaders of our next generation been heard, this new civics test would not have been doomed from its inception.

A standardized test that does not consider the context of the material, the vastly different curriculums in which it will be placed, the stick with which high school students are already being measured and how well they do according to its standards will fall short of expectations. There is no denying civics and government education is important, but contrary to the opinion of our House and Senate, I believe it is the citizens shaped by this education that matter most, not their results on a test that was not made for them.

Nothing about a high school graduate’s ability to pass a test written by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services suggests to me that the student will adequately understand what it means to participate in their government. Nor will a policy enforced without students’ input make them feel that they have the power to be involved.

In reality, their voices should mean the most.

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Kaitlin Libby is a junior studying environmental studies and information science. Follow her on Twitter.

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