Governor Kristi Noem’s high school civics test mandate, House Bill 1066, took an interesting turn Tuesday. After House Education whittled Noem’s sloppy bill down to impose a smaller ten-question test, and after some curious discussion in Senate Education Tuesday about letting the Secretary of Education pick ten random questions from the USCIS Citizenship Test every time a student asks to take the test (USCIS has a randomizer! I can build you one in Moodle!), five senators decided we should go back to Square 1. Senate Education amended out all the previous amendments and voted 5–2 to send Governor Noem’s original HB 1066 to the Senate floor.
That takes us back to Square 1 in the arguments against Governor Noem’s poorly crafted bill:
- Noem’s HB 1066 fails to specify a standard test, in content and format (written? oral? open-book?), for all students.
- Noem’s bill fails to specify who picks the questions or how.
- Noem’s bill fails to specify who may administer and grade the test.
- Noem’s bill requires schools to report the results of every student’s civics test, even though the bill fails to require that students take the test through their schools.
- Noem’s bill issues a vague prohibition on charging “any fee in connection with the civics test,” meaning tutors, web designers, study guide preparers, and anyone else connected with preparing students for the test or administering it could be subject to legal trouble if they take any kind of pay for their work.
- Noem’s bill simply exempts students on individualized education plans instead of following the normal practice of including those students with accommodations.
- Noem’s bill imposes its mandate on next year’s high school seniors, giving them just one year to adjust their studies to accommodate this suddent mandate.
- Noem’s bill requires every school to report these civics test scores without explaining how school.
And of course, the three major objections to any iteration of civics test requirements remain unaddressed:
- Noem’s 70% passing standard is arbitrary; instead, we need a clear benchmark score, normed by having Governor Noem and all legislators take the test first and publishing and averaging their scores.
- Imposing a civics test as the sole high-stakes testing requirement for graduation when myriad other skills can be deemed equally important for healthy, productive, thoughtful living is absurd.
- No one-sitting civics test will achieve any of the formative educational goals Noem and other civics boosters pretend the current school system is failing to teach. Instead of a tired old test, we should be promoting active civics learning, student engagement in public activism and problem-solving.
Noem’s reverted House Bill 1066 is the product of a politician who doesn’t understand or respect real education. Senate, just kill House Bill 1066 and go back to trusting our teachers and local school boards to do the job we all choose them to do.