Penn­syl­va­nia civics test pro­posal gets a fail­ing grade

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION -

Many of us have fond memories of civics lessons in school. We watched videos of car­toon char­ac­ters singing about how each branch of gov­ern­ment works or how a bill be­comes a law.

Ad­mit it: You’re hum­ming the “I’m just a bill” song right now.

But, start­ing a few years from now, stu­dents may not be hum­ming as much as groan­ing at the men­tion of civics.

Be­cause as if there wasn’t al­ready enough pres­sure on stu­dents to­day, 46 state rep­re­sen­ta­tives have come up with the bright idea to add an­other high-stakes exam.

We are strongly op­posed to this idea.

As Con­estoga Val­ley Su­per­in­ten­dent Ger­ald Huesken point­edly asked in Mon­day’s LNP, “With all the neg­a­tive back­lash that we are test­ing too much, why is the an­swer al­ways to add an­other test?” Ex­cel­lent ques­tion. It may sound like a bro­ken record — it does to us — but we be­lieve that the del­uge of stan­dard­ized tests has se­verely di­luted the ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

“So much cre­ativ­ity, so much time for other sub­jects, has been squeezed out of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion by seem­ingly end­less stan­dard­ized tests and their ac­com­pa­ny­ing prac­tice tests,” we wrote in July.

Stuff­ing a stu­dent’s head with facts and hand­ing them a pa­per with 100 bub­bles to fill in is not the way to em­pha­size the im­por­tance of civics, a sub­ject we agree mer­its more at­ten­tion.

While we un­der­stand that Cut­ler and com­pany have good in­ten­tions — to mold stu­dents into well-ed­u­cated cit­i­zens — more mem­o­riza­tion, more stress and more anx­i­ety are not the an­swer.

Eastern Lan­caster County School District Su­per­in­ten­dent Bob Hol­lis­ter agrees: “I truly love my coun­try and all that it stands for and all that we try to be, but hav­ing stu­dents mem­o­rize facts about it is not go­ing to make, by force, bet­ter cit­i­zens.”

So­cial stud­ies and gov­ern­ment classes al­ready teach how gov­ern­ment works and what it means to be a pro­duc­tive ci­ti­zen. Some classes — at Ephrata High School, for ex­am­ple — take the 100-ques­tion cit­i­zen­ship test at the start and fin­ish of a high school gov­ern­ment class. That de­ci­sion is up to the teacher, not the leg­is­la­tors, as it should be.

(We con­fess that we are cu­ri­ous as to how law­mak­ers sup­port­ing this ini­tia­tive would score on the civics test they are so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally push­ing for stu­dents.)

There are op­por­tu­ni­ties af­ter school to ex­pe­ri­ence civics first­hand. The Boy Scouts of Amer­ica, for ex­am­ple, re­quires Scouts pur­su­ing an Eagle rank to con­duct “a ser­vice project help­ful to any re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion, any school, or your com­mu­nity.” Or­ga­ni­za­tions such as march­ing bands, sports teams and school clubs of­ten in­cor­po­rate a ser­vice com­po­nent.

These op­por­tu­ni­ties go a long way to­ward pre­par­ing our chil­dren to be en­gaged cit­i­zens. And they’re al­ready yield­ing re­sults.

Last year’s Mil­len­nial Im­pact Re­port, by the re­search group Achieve and spon­sored by the Case Foun­da­tion, showed that 84 per­cent of millennials made a char­i­ta­ble do­na­tion in 2014. The study also found that 70 per­cent of millennials spent at least an hour vol­un­teer­ing, with more than one-third vol­un­teer­ing 11 hours or more.

There’s no doubt that millennials want to make our coun­try a bet­ter place. This Novem­ber, they have a great op­por­tu­nity to do just that. To help them be­come an in­formed elec­torate, our ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem needs to be top­notch.

That does not, how­ever, re­quire more test­ing.

We’re glad that some Lan­caster law­mak­ers, such as Demo­cratic state Rep. Mike Sturla and Repub­li­can state Sen. Lloyd Smucker, agree.

We’re tired of other leg­is­la­tors nib­bling at the edges of ed­u­ca­tion re­form by slap­ping more ex­ams on stu­dents’ desks.

Maybe this time they’ll get the hint.

It may sound like a bro­ken record, but we be­lieve that the del­uge of stan­dard­ized tests has se­verely di­luted the ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

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