By Sarah Naron
TEXAS – Beginning later this year, Texas high school students could be required to pass a civics test in order to receive their diplomas as a result of a proposal filed in Austin by Texas State Representative Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, last week.
“There is a national movement that is also playing out in all the other states – certainly most of them – that is essentially restoring civics education and ensuring that all high school graduates are ready for active and engaged citizenship,” explained Rep. Ashby. “This bill is a step in the right direction to ensure that all of our students are taught basic civics; about how our government works and who we are as a nation – things every student should know to be productive Americans.”
According to Rep. Ashby, concerns have been raised in Texas and throughout the rest of the country over the past decade regarding the curriculum used to prepare students for the annual end-of-course test administered to high school students on U.S. history.
“It’s been overly burdensome for teachers,” Rep. Ashby said. “It fails to cover issues of historical importance and unfortunately, it has led to decreased proficiency in basic civics amongst Texas high school graduates.”
Should Rep. Ashby’s bill become law, he explained, it would facilitate the elimination of the current end-of-course test, which would be replaced with the civics test taken by individuals applying for United States citizenship.
If the bill passes both the House and Senate and is signed by the governor, the change would become effective Sept. 1, 2019.
“I also carried this bill last year; the bill number was HB 1776,” Rep. Ashby said. “It passed the House almost unanimously, and then, it got bogged down in the Senate and didn’t pass. So, this bill is familiar to most of my colleagues, and I’ve received a lot of encouragement both inside and outside the Capitol to continue to move this bill forward.”
Currently, Rep. Ashby said, 20 other states across the country have passed similar legislation.
“So, as I said, this is part of a national grassroots movement to really restore civics and the important aspects of U.S. history into our classrooms,” Rep. Ashby said.
According to Dr. Karon LeCompte, an associate professor at Baylor University with a research interest centering on civics education in elementary and secondary schools, “the marginalization of the teaching of civics in government” has seen a dramatic decrease throughout the past two decades.
“Most states have high school students take at least one civics class or have some kind of requirement,” Dr. LeCompte said. “By taking a test in civics, students will learn the structure of government, and more importantly, they will learn what it means to be an active civic participant.”
As Dr. LeCompte went on to explain, “civic participation is primarily not only knowing that you’re required to vote, but more importantly, for people that are not 18 yet and cannot vote, it’s helping them understand that they have a sense of civic identity or a belief that they can make a difference.”
To prove that civic education is successful in areas in which it is undertaken, Dr. LeCompte cited statistics provided by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).
“This year, they’re not outstanding statistics, but the 2018 Youth Political Engagement – young people who can vote and who have been involved in some kind of Instagram education – the turnout for the election was highest in recent decades,” Dr. LeCompte reported. “Thirty-one percent turned out to vote.”
A helpful tool to familiarize both students and teachers with civics, Dr. LeCompte said, is iCivics, which can be accessed online by visiting www.icivics.org.
“It provides teachers with effective, free, accessible resources,” she explained. “It not only has video games, but also has curriculum to inspire every student and give every student an opportunity for a high-quality civic education in and beyond the classroom.”