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HB 1066: Gov. Noem Imposes Vague Civics Test on All Students Next Fall

Governor Kristi Noem wants to slap school districts with another unfunded mandate. This week she got House State Affairs to file House Bill 1066, her desire to force every child in South Dakota to pass a civics test to graduate high school.

House Bill 1066 is a great example of what goes wrong when politicians who have never worked in education try to play teacher or principal and tell teachers how to teach.

HB 1066 Section 1 orders every student who wants a high school diploma to take a civics test sometime after starting grade nine and score at least 70%. It directs that the test consist of at least 50 of the 100 questions on the USCIS Civics Test.

Notice first that this mandate diverges from the basic naturalization requirement. Immigrants seeking citizenship are asked up to ten of those questions orally. Answering six questions correctly is enough to pass. HB 1066 thus raises the pass rate for a high school diploma from 60% to 70%.

HB 1066 Section 2 forbids anyone from charging “any fee in connection with the civics test.” Hmmm… does that mean tutors can’t charge students for any help with their civics lessons? Does that mean publishers can’t charge for any study guides or other helpful materials? Does that mean the library can’t charge students a dime a sheet for printing copies of the practice test or the Constitution? Does that mean that the Rapid City Public Library cannot charge $20 to proctor the civics test for students taking alternative instruction?

Section 2 also exempts students on individualized education plans for testing would be inappropriate. Interesting: usually when I’ve dealt with students on IEPs, we don’t exempt them from the test; we modify the test (different format, oral instead of written, extended time…) to accommodate the students’ learning disabilities. Apparently rather than accommodate, Governor Noem takes the position that she has no obligation to help citizens with learning disabilities participate in civic affairs.

Section 3 imposes the testing mandate to “each student beginning in the 2019–2020 school year.” Um… does that mean each student beginning school this fall—i.e., new kindergartners? Does it mean every student in school as of September 2019, meaning next year’s graduating seniors will have just one year to comply while next year’s frosh get four years to try?

Section 3 requires every public school and every school seeking state accreditation to report the score for every mandatory civics test taken at least annually. But will each school have those scores? Will each school even be giving the test?

Nothing in the bill says who gives the test. Nothing in the bill says my daughter can’t come home, print off the questions from USCIS, then take that test open book, Googling each answer, taking her time, doing five questions each night (skipping weekends—we’ve got CHiPs to watch… which really is full of positive civic messages), checking her answers with dear old Dad, and then e-mailing the final document with all the right answers to Superintendent Guffin.

Nothing in HB 1066 says who grades the test. Does Governor Noem expect the high school government teacher to handle grading all these state tests? Since it’s a state-mandated test, should kids send their test to Governor Noem to grade, or to the Department of Education?

And why 70%? If civics matters, do we really want citizen running around getting the First Amendment wrong three out of ten times? The proper way to norm this test is by seeing what our most prominent practitioners of civics score on such a test. We should norm the civics test by having Governor Noem and our sitting legislators take the test, all one hundred question. Their average score (adjusted every two years, when the Governor and every incoming legislator retake the test before Session begins) becomes the standard for getting a diploma.

House Bill 1066 is a big silly mess, written by a Governor who apparently doesn’t understand basic testing, let alone civics education and civics. HB 1066 is political grandstanding from non-educators that exposes their broader contempt for public education.

Take your own civics test, Governor Noem. Then take your civics test and shove it.

18 Comments

  1. Porter Lansing 2019-01-26

    This sham test reminds me of 1965 when I took the NRA Hunter Safety Course at age 12. During the morning four hours, the instructors went through every question on the test, gave the answer and explained why you don’t cross a barbed wire fence with your gun in your hand, etc. The afternoon was a two hour session where the instructor again went through every question on the test and reiterated the correct answer. Then we took the test. The process drilled the right answers into your mind. It was a multiple choice test and no one ever failed.
    PS … In 1965 the NRA was a worthy outfit.

  2. Donald Pay 2019-01-26

    A big “F” for bill writing. Man that is a messed up piece of…legislation. It can probably be fixed, but why? I agree that education in civics is important, but legislators might want to get some expert advise, and Cory has written out a good program in another thread. It might want to talk to Cory about a real program, not another half-baked testing idea. If you don’t care about civics education beyond having a political point you write bills like this.

  3. Porter Lansing 2019-01-26

    Very good, Don. I’d suppose that Cory would sell his test to the state. The going rate would be between $10,000 and $25,000, along with a $1.00 fee to Cory every time the test is administered, in perpetuity.

  4. J 2019-01-26

    Who selects the 50 questions? If every district has to do this on their own, then of course it is an unfunded mandate because there is nothing in the bill to compensate people for the time it takes to develop the test. Also, if every district selects a different set of 50 questions, the test is completely invalid and unreliable. There would be no way to collect accurate data that would represent how one school performed compared to another school. It is fine if the purpose is not to compare schools. On the other hand, if the only reporting requirement is to the governor or department of education, there must not be any requirement to report results to school district stakeholders, most importantly the individuals who pay taxes to support the education at that school. Don’t they have a right to know how the school is doing in civics education? High schools are currently held accountable for graduation rates and it becomes part of their state report cards. Will this assessment be part of that calculation? We can certainly assume there may be students who do not pass, therefore will not be allowed to graduate. The high school graduation requirements were recently revised, so has the governor considered how this requirement fits in with what is in place?

  5. NK 2019-01-26

    Why does this measure bypass the Department of Education? Is DOE about to be abolished?

  6. mike from iowa 2019-01-26

    Let’s start out with a question about honesty in politicians. Is it okay for the guv elect to have lied repeatedly about losing family farm to estate taxes?

  7. mike from iowa 2019-01-26

    #2 where'[s wall dough?

  8. mtr 2019-01-26

    Teachers at this mornings local cracker barrel noted that everything in the civics test is found in various school standards. Its being taught already. Can someone prove that this is a problem?

    More importantly, can this blog come up with a catchy name for bills like this, which come up every year, that seem only to distract us from more important things. Like the 150 or so bills that were dropped on Thursday and Friday.

  9. mike from iowa 2019-01-26

    mtr- maybe if you could answer this essential question, everything will appear more easily understood- The Plight of the Political Convert
    Defectors from the left have often given the right a spark and depth. Why doesn’t it work the other way around?

    I do not fully endorse this statement as there are some learned ex-Repubs and others who comment here that are far more open minded than I.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-26

    Porter, that’s a good example of how teaching and testing should go together. You don’t just mandate a test. You go over the information multiple times (preferably in different ways, but we can debate teaching styles elsewhere). The point is to make sure the kids rehearse and interact with the information multiple times. The test, one instance of filling in blanks or circling answers on one piece of paper, is trivial.

    A more authentic test, of course, would be to take the kids out in the field, have them hand off their guns to cross multiple fences, and demonstrate all the other proper safety practices.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-26

    MTR: how about “Fluff Bills”?

    I am very glad to hear you had teachers at your crackerbarrel, MTR, who brought up the fact that probably everything that legislators would cite as examples of “civics” is already being taught and tested in our schools.

    I didn’t pose these questions out our Aberdeen crackerbarrel today (I defer to other members of the public, as long as they have questions), but I encourage everyone to pose these questions to their legislators on the civics issue:

    1. Define “civics”.

    2. (Especially for younger legislators, or legislators who have kids in school) What aspects of civics are not being taught in school?

    3. What observable actions should we expect kids to exhibit to objcetively demonstrate their civics knowledge? (i.e.: Don’t just tell me you want kids to “know” or “understand” or “recognize”—those are internal things that we can’t see; what external things can kids do that will make you say, “Ah, now there’s someone who knows civics”?)

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-26

    NK, Noem can’t be planning to abolish the Department of Education, since Hb 1066 specifies that schools report the civics test scores to the Department. But, yeah—why is the Department of Education not coming up with, designing, and administering the test? As J aptly notes, if the state is requiring the test, it ought to be standard for everyone. Allowing every school to pick and choose the questions from the list, or even to let different kids take different tests using different question sets, and to take the tests in different formats at different times raises all sorts of problems.

  13. Caroline 2019-01-26

    I would add to the requirements that all students be required to watch the documentary “Out of Many, One”, which can be found free on Netflix.

  14. Jason 2019-01-26

    Those questions and answers do not help us understand American history. Instead they help perpetuate the myth of American Exceptionalism. I suggest we put together a series of short answer questions for our current crop of elected officials. Let them prove they deserve to represent us in our so-called democracy.
    1. Indigenous peoples were systematically removed by settlers and other agents of the Anglo-American state. How was this genocide justified? Your answer must include a reference to Andrew Jackson.
    2. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Why didn’t he free his slaves after the War for Independence?
    3. Why didn’t women, blacks and natives receive rights guaranteed in the original Constitution?
    4. Discuss the purpose for creating the United States of America.
    5. Discuss one anti-democratic element within the original constitution.
    6. Explain one recent anti-democratic Supreme Court ruling.
    7. Why did the US government violate the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty?
    8. Why did the 7th cavalry massacre up to 300 unarmed Lakota people at Wounded Knee in 1890?
    9. Why did Indigenous peoples try to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline?
    10. The UN published a recent report about the impending climate crisis. Why aren’t our elected officials doing anything to prevent this all but certain catastrophe? Is there anything in our nation’s history that would have foreshadowed this very moment? Write a standard 5 paragraph long essay that addresses all parts of this question. Make sure you demonstrate historical reasoning skills. Good luck!

  15. Loren 2019-01-26

    Every student should learn why politicians spend $$millions$$ to obtain a job that pays $175,000. They should know how you can be worth $$thousands$$ going in and $$millions$$ coming out. Understand that working 3-day weeks when you are not on some sort of vacation, producing NOTHING has better pay and denies than working 60 hr weeks and producing something. Yes, students need to learn the new realities. It’s what we have given them.

  16. Deejay Beejr 2019-01-26

    Who feels like betting that if we asked Kristi Noem this question, she couldn’t answering it without Google: “What is the significance of the number 1066 on Western government and what influence did it eventually have on American civics?”

  17. Debbo 2019-01-26

    And Congress and state legislatures wonder why their approval ratings are sooooooo looooooow. 😖😖

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-01-27

    [Note: again, the Jason above is the smart and sincere discussant Jason, not the cranky Trumpist provocateur who now goes by “Jason from SD”]

    Jason’s civics test questions are great. They require more than a one-word or one-sentence answer. They require real critical inquiry into American history and government.

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