What are your thoughts on the proposed citizenship test requirement for high school students? My view? Meh.

If I dug hard enough in my boxes of “stuff” in my garage, somewhere I have an early 50’s Iowa grade school report card for my mother (who passed away 14 years ago), where it had a specific printed line item for the grade she had earned in ‘citizenship.’

The understanding of it back then was an abstract judgement of how you conduct yourself in normal society. And in some schools, it’s used yet today with phrases such as “_______ is a very dependable student. She frequently helps her classmates without being asked to do so. Thank-you for your help” scribbled in the margin as an explanatory/praising phrase on the report card.  Basically, a nice way to classify a child’s behavior amongst their peers.

Articles have been appearing in the media recently about how a group in South Dakota (as well as in 6 other states) want to take the definition beyond getting along with your peers, and require actual state level testing on actual citizenship:

“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” state coordinator Georgia Hanson said. “The kids should know this stuff.”


South Dakota schools already must cover statehood and the United States Constitution, “not later than the opening of the eighth grade and shall continue in the high school,” according to state law.

But Hanson’s group would go a step further.

Starting with the 2016-17 school year, the North Dakota measure would require all public, private, and home school students to answer at least 60 percent of questions on the test correctly to be eligible for a diploma. Students can take the test once a year, any time between seventh grade and graduation.


Organizers for the South Dakota initiative plan to introduce a bill for the 2015 legislative session, though Hanson said there was no rush.

“We’ve got time here to get this put together, and we want to make sure that everybody has a chance to either sponsor it or support it,” Hanson said.

Read it here.

The South Dakota law the article mentions (but fails to cite) is SDCL 13-33-4, which reads:

13-33-4.   Instruction on United States and state Constitutions required–Years when given. In all public and nonpublic schools located within the state there shall be given regular courses of instruction in the Constitutions of the United States and the State of South Dakota. Such instruction shall begin not later than the opening of the eighth grade and shall continue in the high school to an extent to be determined by the South Dakota Board of Education.

The law goes back to the state’s codification of laws back in 1939, and may pre-date it even further.  So it’s not as if South Dakota ignores a basic need for this type of instruction.  I don’t have a problem with this broad kind of guidance.

Maybe it’s my contrarian nature, but I can’t escape the notion in my head that the proposal being floated seems like yet another legislative measure for yet another standardized test for yet another graduation requirement. Yes, it’s about things that kids should know, but it’s also coming in the form of a mandate that a special interest wants to see thrust upon school children. And I’m quite sure that it will be administered without funding, leaving it at the expense of school districts and the state.

Before we get too far down the road on a bill being introduced, I think I’d raise the question of how adding this graduation requirement and changing the state’s legal requirement on instruction for the US Constitution was received by the South Dakota Board of Education when it was presented to them.

If it was ever presented to them.

If the parents in the state feel the instruction that schools are currently offering in this area is somehow deficient, the State BOE standards for that type of curriculum should be the first place to look. Going down the legislative path just opens the door for the “Why SDSU is better than USD” standardized graduation requirement, or the “Blogs are Awesome” curriculum law.

And that’s the last thing schools need from the state legislature.

But, that’s just my 2 cents worth.  What do you think?

(If you’re interested in finding out what the current graduation requirements are, there’s a 24 page booklet from the DOE available to view on-line.)

22 Replies to “What are your thoughts on the proposed citizenship test requirement for high school students? My view? Meh.”

  1. Exodus

    I really believe this is one of the best things to come up in the legislature in a long time. Basic American facts that too many young people do not learn or know. If we don’t understand where we came from or why we are doomed to fall by the way side.

    I applaud this.

  2. springer

    Since I’m a considerable number of years out from high school, I don’t know what is being actually taught in high school or grade school anymore as far as civics or basic history. Back in my day this stuff was automatically taught and kids had to learn it. If it’s not being taught anymore, it needs to be, and if the school system isn’t smart enough to know that, then I guess a mandate is necessary. We need to understand and know our own history in order to appreciate the sacrifices many have made to ensure our present freedoms and to understand how important it is to preserve these freedoms.

  3. Fleming

    I’m pretty much in favor of it. The version I support says that kids need to pass the same test immigrants who want to become U.S. Citizens have to pass. But instead of having their citizenship at risk, all they are risking is their high school diploma. I suppose I could be talked out of it if someone could prove to me that it’s a really bad idea, but I posted the question on FB and so far, nobody has made any especially convincing arguments. One friend noted that a HS diploma should probably mean more than just having an acceptable attendance record. 🙂

  4. Pat Powers

    So how is this test going to be applied to Special Ed students?

    And why should a child’s graduation hinge on their performance on a single “high risk” test (that’s the technical term for one like this) as opposed to their classroom work?

    1. Fleming

      Don’t know, Pat. Are HS graduation requirements for Special Ed students different from other HS students on other subjects? What kind of test do Special Ed immigrants who get naturalized take?

  5. Troy Jones

    This is a question that was recently gotten wrong by 100% of a recent high school senior class.

    Who was the first President of the United States of America?

    Anyone here know?

        1. Mark N.

          Don’t let the internet tropes fool you. George Washington was the first “President of the United States of America”. Anyone before him was either president of the continental congress or president of the Congress of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.

  6. Fred Deutsch

    Pat, the legislation that’s making its way around the states requires a student to correctly answer at least sixty of the one hundred questions listed on a test that is identical to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States citizenship and immigration services. Students may take the test as many times as necessary in order to achieve a passing score. Students who receive special education shall not be required to achieve passing scores unless the pupil is learning at a level appropriate for the pupil’s grade level. I have no idea if something similar will make its way to SD.

  7. mhs

    Minnesota has a new law that requires anyone towing a boat in the state must take a half-hour online class in invasive species prevention.

    If I don’t take the class, do I flunk citizenship?

    The beauty of liberty is that it resists efforts to be defined, it just is.

    Requirements like this impinge on freedom more than they promote it.

  8. Troy Jones

    Anon 4:01,

    That is certainly one answer depending on how you define first President. But, there is no way you can say George Washington.

    7-4-1776: America declared Independence as the United States of America. The President was Sam Huntington. However, because the independent and sovereign states had not really submitted their sovereignty to a federal government some assert Huntington was the first President of the dream of the USA. On the other side, you could argue that regardless of formal agreements, the USA began with a handshake with formal agreements to follow.

    2-22-1781: The last of the states ratified the Articles of Confederation (when the several States really became the United States under a formal government. An argument could be made that Thomas McKean was thus the first President.

    11-5-1781: As you said, John Hanson was the first President elected under the Articles of Confederation.

    9-3-1783: Signing of the Treaty of Paris (ending Revolutionary War) when Elias Boudinot, which is when Britain officially gave up jurisdiction and the USA was formally recognized as an entity.

    In any case, depending on how you want to define it, George Washington was as far down the list as 11th President of the United States and a stronger case can be made for the others than for Washington.

    George Washington was the first President under the Constitution but not the first President. This said, the powers of the others weren’t Executive as they are now. They were more like a Speaker of the House.

    1. Veldy

      I always thought it was Thomas McKean; as for Washington, “first in war, first in peace, last in the American League.”

    2. Mark N.

      Troy, your last two sentences are why George Washington was the first “President of the United States.” He was the first to hold the office. The previous offices may have had the title of president, but they were not “President of the United States.” The were presidents of the congress.

  9. daj

    If it is good for students to be able to pass this test, then I think all elected officials should have to pass this same test before being sworn in. Their knowledge of history and citizenship is vital to their job.

  10. MC

    I’ve seen this idea floated a couple of times in different forms. Each time it gets knocked down. One (short lived) idea included have a Federal judge preside over the Oath of Citizenship at graduation.

    The thinking is immigrants who come to our great nation, study and pass the citizenship test seem to know their rights and responsibilities as citizens of the United States of America more so than those native born. It also seems naturalized immigrants show their pride as citizens much more than those who have lived here all their lives.

    To some extent that is correct. Most high schoolers haven’t lived on other countries thus they don’t know what it is like to live under governments or systems. They take many of their freedoms for granted.

    Some of the concerns were taking the test would take away from teaching more important subjects and teachers would teach the test, and the students wouldn’t learn what it means to be a citizen.

    Some of the questions that came up were: What happens if they don’t pass the test? Do they become non-citizens? Who is going to pay the judge to administer the oath, the school or someone else? Is the test/oath really relevant to their citizenship? And do they really need to know this stuff to be productive people in our society?

    1. Bill Fleming

      MC, as I understand it, it’s a condition of HS graduation, not citizenship. Making it a condition of citizenship would violate the 14th Amendment. I think, being a condition of graduation would make it an issue that could be decided and administered on a state by state basis, or perhaps even more locally. For example, if I had a private high school, and you wanted to graduate from it, you would be required to pass the test.

  11. Troy Jones

    Mark N.

    I agree that Washington was the first to hold the office as currently constituted. But, the United States existed prior to Washington for years prior to 1790 and we had a President (albeit weaker than we have today).

    And, my point is we had Presidents to Washington whose names have been virtually forgotten by history because their role was to marshal, direct, cajole and move the Continental Congress and under the Articles toward our current form of government. The subjugated their ego (and ultimately place in history) for the good of the nation and they are absent from our history books.

    I too usually refer to Washington as first President but we shouldn’t do it with the absolutism we do for it diminishes some pretty important men. Holding the Continental Congress together until 1783 and signing of the Treaty of Paris was no small task. They were selected by their peers to accomplish just that and they succeeded.

    While not possessing the role of Washington as General or the charisma or philosophical heft of our recognized Founding Fathers, they deserve greater credit than they get for their leadership.

    I read a book a long time ago that focused on the forgotten Founding Fathers (Huntington, Handcock, McKean and Caroll). While Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin were thinking, these men were marshaling money (a lot of their own) and getting resources from the individual States.

    They might not have given us our Founding Documents, but we wouldn’t have had a country with which to apply these documents without them.

  12. Troy Jones

    CORRECTION: Hancock was the President during the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Hancock was the leader who saved Washington’s job as Congress was not pleased with the early defeats and began to question Washington. Most significantly, it was Hancock who selected the delegation to visit at the front and assess if Washington should retain his position. Hancock selected in the delegation two people wanting to replace Washington and his strongest Congressional supporter (Carroll). Conventional wisdom was Hancock was setting the stage for Washington’s removal. Instead, they came back recommending Washington retain his job. Hancock specifically selected the two “anti” Washington people he thought could be convinced by Washington and Carroll.

    Huntington came later and whose significance was he presided after Saratoga and when the tide turned in the War. Huntington was from one of the minor colonies and thus not a threat to the major colonies (Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Maryland) and that (plus his calm, fair-minded demeanor) helped him gain cooperation from the majors who had the most men and money.

  13. Anonymous

    Its good to see that the white underwear class at Madville is reading SDWC:

    “I agree that the last thing I need is the Legislature telling me what to test my students on, but I’ll wait to see what if any proposal hits the Legislative hopper this session.”

    My students? REALLY?

    Being honest with your students (and readers) is the first thing a teacher should strive for. Corey is rarely in SD, is not employed by a school district in SD, and thus has no students in SD subject to the laws of SD.

    Corey should take a test on honesty. Then he should take a test on controlling his anger in an educational environment. Post-test remediation to follow on both accounts.


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