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House Waters Noem’s Civics Test Down to Ten Questions

Governor Kristi Noem’s plan to require every student to take a civics test to graduate high school is still alive, but the House has watered it down to a more ridiculous form than Noem’s original plan.

When House Education held its second day of hearings on Governor Noem’s House Bill 1066, the committee struck the entire text and started over. It wasn’t a complete hoghouse—House Ed put back some of the language—but they made several key changes.

First, where Governor Noem wanted kids to take “at least fifty” of the 100 questions on the USCIS Citizenship Test. House Ed said that’s too much; now kids will only face ten of those questions, just like new Americans applying for citizenship. House Ed kept the 70% passing threshold, but now instead of getting at least 35 questions right, kids need only give seven right answers to prove they are American enough for Kristi Noem.

Second, to fix the vagueness of Noem’s sloppily written original, House Ed specified that the Secretary of Education will pick the ten questions. Every student will thus face the same test. That limitation standardizes the test, but it greatly reduces the scope of study necessary to prepare. The standardization is also limited by year: HB 1066 as amended directs the Secretary to selected questions annually, suggesting that students taking the test in December may face different (easier? harder? more relevant?) questions from those who take the test in January. Or wait—when they say “annually,” do they mean within each calendar year or each academic year? Huh—so much for fixing the vagueness.

To get her oppositional home schoolers’ base off her back, Governor Noem had to accept an amendment exempting home school students from the civics test. That’s funny: Governor Noem thinks this one subject, civics, is the one subject that is so overarchingly important that every student must pass a test specifically on this topic to receive a high school diploma, but she decides that the least-monitored students in the state, the students who spend the least time in public education, our most common and common-izing civic institution, don’t need to to prove they’ve mastered that topic.

And just to tweak the Governor, House Ed struck the word “civics” from the bill. HB 1066 is now “An Act to require students to pass a citizenship test before graduating from high school.” So HB 1066 no longer fits neatly with the little campaign slogan she’s been brewing about promoting “civics” education.

Of course, House Bill 1066 and Noem’s whole push on civics education has never been about real civics education, certainly not more civics education that our K-12 teachers already do in their social studies classes, their composition classes and debate contests, and their field trips to the county courthouse and jail and museums and the Capitol. Real civics education doesn’t come from memorizing ten answers to ten questions on a quiz. (Kristi Noem passed enough quizzes at SDSU to get a degree, but that doesn’t mean she can write a functional bill or exhibit true civic spirit by putting the public good ahead of her personal gain.) Real civics education comes from engagement, active participation in community life and the kind of ongoing, vigorous, critical conversations with teachers and other leaders about what America is really about that knuckleheads in her party like Rep. Kaleb Weis want to shut down.

House Bill 1066, like Kristi Noem, remains a show pony, the trivial tack-on of politicians pretending to be educators. It passed the House last week 38–31. The only Democrat who voted for it was Minority Leader Jamie Smith (D-15/Sioux Falls).

HB 1066 now awaits Senate Education‘s attention. We can only hope Senate Education will further amend HB 1066 to require the Governor and legislators to take this test and set the benchmark for passing the citizenship test. Until Kristi takes the test (live, on TV, with in-studio monitors making sure she’s not using crib notes or a teleprompter), none of our kids should take the test.


  1. Debbo 2019-02-20 17:09

    “Until Kristi takes the test (live, on TV, with in-studio monitors making sure she’s not using crib notes or a teleprompter), none of our kids should take the test.”


    I’d add the the lege too.

  2. Donald Pay 2019-02-20 19:27

    Cory says: “Real civics education comes from engagement, active participation in community life….”

    Yes, real civics: all the things Republicans actively discourage citizens from engaging in. They pass laws to make real civics nearly impossible, then they can’t figure out why students have no interest in it, and why teachers have a hard time teaching boring test answers in a boring way.

    The sad part is I think civics is important, but the legislature and governor want students to be fed lies, at worst, or pablum, at best, and regurgitate them. When I was a student I’d protest this. On the day the test was given, I’d teach the Governor about protests, sitting at my desk and refusing to take the stupid test, civil disobedience, petitioning for redress of grievances, and free speech. Now THAT’S civics that means something. Memorizing one of those sheets describing how bills become law is B.S. THAT, we know from the numerous hoghouse vehicles is nonsense.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-20 20:38

    Kids will learn more about civics from reading my blog each week than they will from taking Kristi’s civics test.

  4. o 2019-02-20 20:48

    The actual citizenship test is oral and quite open ended. Will the SD version be as well, or will it be watered down to multiple-choice for expediency?

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-20 20:58

    O, given the rough ride Noem’s half-hearted civics agenda has gotten, I predict that by the end of Session, the only civics test that will make it out of the Legislature is a requirement that every graduate recite the state motto at graduation.

  6. o 2019-02-20 22:23

    Porter, I can still to this day recite the Preamble to the Constitution after many Saturday mornings spent watching School House Rocks between morning cartoons.

  7. Porter Lansing 2019-02-20 23:01

    Good one, o. :)

  8. Debbo 2019-02-20 23:36

    I know the state song, “Hail, SD.”

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-21 12:20

    “… a great state of the land!
    Health, wealth, and beauty—that’s what makes her grand!”

    We should most definitely replay Schoolhouse Rock in our social studies classrooms.

    There is also a place for rote memorization and recitation in education. I like the idea of having kids memorize and recite the Preamble. But for real assessment, I prefer (and I suspect the research prefers) some authentic, hands-on performance, not just memorization and recall.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-21 12:22

    If Al Novstrup and Jim Bolin really want to play school, they should have stayed in education.

    If Kristi Noem wants to play school, she should go get her teaching certificate.

    If legislators really want to boss teachers around, they should stay home and run for school board… and even then, they should back off and leave decisions about what to teach and how to teach it to the professionals in the classroom.

    Folks with a good understanding of civics would get that.

  11. Debbo 2019-02-21 13:20

    Cory, I think I learned it in 5th grade. Set something to music and it sticks. However, we have a difference in lyrics. I wonder if they changed it? My 5th grade was in 1963-4.

    Hail South Dakota
    Best state in the land
    Health, wealth and beauty
    That’s what makes her grand.

    She has her Black Hills
    And gold mines oh so rare
    Hail South Dakota
    No state can compare.

  12. Debbo 2019-02-21 13:22

    And yeah, let the experts run education, not the anti-education zealots, unless your willing to have an appendectomy done by an anti-science, anti-med school zealot.

  13. bearcreekbat 2019-02-21 14:17

    Don’t forget that wonderful little ditty, “Dakota Land.” When I was a child, I was taught these lyrics:

    O Dakota Land, sweet Dakota land,
    Upon this gopher hole I stand,
    I look across your pearly plain,
    And I wish to God that it would rain.

    We would love to leave, but we must stay,
    We’re just too damn poor to move away,
    O Dakota Land, so fertile and rich,
    I think you are a honey.

    Here is a slightly different, but similar version:

    Here are what seem to be the original lyrics:,1CF/Assets/Unit%201/Expanding%20West/PDF/Dakota%20Land%20Song%20Lyrics.pdf

  14. Debbo 2019-02-21 14:33

    Your version is definitely my favorite BCB. However, your last line doesn’t seem to rhyme?

  15. mike from iowa 2019-02-21 14:41

    Debbo, wait for the tide to come in. :) Then it will rhyme.

  16. bearcreekbat 2019-02-21 15:02

    Debbo, And how the older ones laughed at our disappointment when no one sang the naughty rhyme!

    Meanwhile, I erred on one line. It should have read:

    >blockquote>We have no oats, we have no hay,
    but we’re too damn poor to move away.

  17. Porter Lansing 2019-02-21 15:13

    I was talking just this morning about how during Vietnam in Watertown, the guys I hung out with all got sent to war and the wealthy folks boys didn’t. Things haven’t changed much, huh? Here’s South Dakota’s song. Apologies to those with PTSD. It never gets better and we remember. 8th of November – Big and Rich

  18. Roger Cornelius 2019-02-21 18:06

    Well, I’m about to reveal just how old I really am, maybe a few of you will remember some of this stuff:
    When I was in the South Dakota Public School system we had this thing called YCL, Young Citizens League, that was our civics class.
    Of course YCL had some silly song, you learned the Pledge of Allegiance, the state motto, the state flower, the state animal, and on and on. All stuff meant to be forgotten.
    Truth to tell, we learned civics at home, mostly listening to mom, dad, and other family members discussing politics on a regular basis. And we just didn’t learn state and national politics and government, we learned about tribal government.

  19. Debbo 2019-02-21 21:20

    Hey, I forgot about YCL! Yeah, and in the spring there was a countywide of field day. I lived in Hand County and it included all the country schools too. There were various contests of writing, art, speaking and other civic kinds of things. It was held in Miller, the county seat, and included tours of the courthouse and jail. That’s when I was shut in the padded cell. I know, I know. Why did they ever let me out?!

    I think there were some physical activities too– foot races, kittenball (remember?) throw, etc. It was fun.

    Thanks for the reminder Roger. Did you have the YCL field day too?

  20. Porter Lansing 2019-02-21 21:46

    Bring it back.

  21. Jason 2019-02-21 21:54

    There should be a logical reasoning test instead of a civics test.

    If you can’t pass a logical reasoning test, you shouldn’t get a college diploma.

  22. Roger Cornelius 2019-02-21 22:04

    Yeah, Debbo, we had the YCL field day, it all seems so corny now, but good memories just the same.
    When I think of civics, I think of knowing who your senators, congressmen, governor and other local elected leaders are and how they got there.
    I think that everyone should have at least an awareness of the U.S. Constitution and the protections it gives you.
    Laws of both criminal and civil need to be learned at an early age.

  23. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-24 08:26

    Jason, students already have to pass multiple logical reasoning tests in every class to get their diploma. Teachers have it covered. Legislators are not teachers and do not understand teaching and assessment.

  24. Marietta verner 2019-03-10 09:51


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