- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana joined a handful of other states Tuesday in considering legislation that would require high schools students to pass the U.S. citizenship test before they can graduate.

Some lawmakers said that if immigrants have to know who won the Civil War, or be able to list the rights and freedoms protected by the First Amendment, high school students should too. But others, including the Republican chairman of the House Education Committee, were skeptical that another test is the answer.

If passed, the bill would require students to correctly answer 60 out of the 100 questions on the U.S. citizenship test to receive a diploma.

The legislation is part of growing effort to boost civic education and is being pushed by the nonprofit Joe Foss Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona, which wants all states to adopt the requirement by 2017. Arizona was the first state to pass it last Thursday and more are expected to follow suit.

Those in support of the Indiana bill said the heavy emphasis on testing students on mathematics, science and language arts under the state’s academic standards has caused other school topics to be overlooked.

“There’s an old adage that if it’s tested, it’s taught,” said bill sponsor Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola. “Everything else kind of just falls down in the cracks.”

Results from the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress indicated that more than half of high school seniors scored in the lowest achievement level or “below basic” in American history.

“The studies all show that Americans desperately need a refresher course on civics and U.S. history,” said Sam Stone, the political director for the nonprofit Civics Education Initiative that’s lobbying for the test. “It’s really important to start creating a foundation for a rebirthing of civics education nationwide.”

Opponents, including committee chairman Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, agreed that a decrease in civic knowledge is an issue, but said another test won’t solve the problem.

The proliferation of testing is part of the problem, according to Bruce Blomberg, social studies specialist for the Indiana Department of Education. Students focus on memorizing the answers, rather than understanding the fundamental concepts.

“We’re already teaching almost everything that’s covered on the test,” Blomberg said after the hearing. “If we’re really serious about this issue, we need to somehow involve students in different kinds of civic activities.”

Behning said more discussion is needed before the committee can decide whether to send it to the full House.

A similar Senate bill, backed by Republican Dennis Kruse of Auburn, is expected to go through the Senate Education Committee in February.

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