Assignment: Education – New Civics Test Requirement

Wisconsin law requires students to take, pass civics test to graduate

In Joe Scerniak’s U.S. Government class at Central High School in La Crosse, students are learning all about how our country operates. This makes preparing students for the newly required civics test fairly easy.

“It’s not something that isn’t stuff — content — that we aren’t already teaching and learning about in here,” said Scerniak.

When the Wisconsin budget was passed in July of 2015 mandating all students take and pass a civics test in order to graduate, the School District of La Crosse wasn’t concerned for their students.

“We’ve been doing pilot testing this year, and having kids go through and take the test,” said Deborah Markos, Logan High School principal. “Out of all our juniors that have taken it, only 6 percent haven’t passed it.”

“It was fairly easy,” said Logan High School junior Hannah Butler. “It asked questions about our government and how it works, like who’s running and the ideology of our government today. Those questions were a little bit harder. But for the most part, it was pretty easy and straight forward.”

The questions on the test are required by state law to be identical to those on the U.S. citizenship test.

The State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers says this requirement doesn’t enhance civics education, because the test only quizzes students on dates and facts like the number of Supreme Court justices.

“Is that important,” questions Evers. “I guess it is. It’s embarrassing if you don’t know it. But it’s more important to understand what role our Supreme Court plays in our democracy at a state and local level.”

Evers feels the test is not very thought-provoking.

“Facts are important enough,” said Evers. “But I learned a long time ago, from my history teacher at Plymouth High School, that understanding the conceptual underpinnings of some of these things is absolutely more important.”

And while the content of the exam has already been decided by the state Legislature, the test format and date of the exam are chosen by the school district.

“What we’re working on is to get this set up within our system so the kids can do an online test,” said Markos.

The results of the computerized test can then be easily included on a student’s transcript showing the completed graduation requirement.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time out of classroom instruction to administer it, but kids have done well, and we’re going ahead with it,” said Scerniak. It’s just like any other test that we’re required for students to take.”

The test consists of 100 multiple choice questions. Students must get a 60 percent on the test to pass.

Beginning next year, the test will be given to 10th graders after they take U.S. History.

State law said students can take the test as many times as needed until they receive a passing grade.