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Wisconsin’s Mandatory Civics Exam Enters First Year

Mitchell Grinyer

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In Wisconsin, understanding the groundwork of America is no longer confined to homework and note-taking.  Wisconsin has joined eight other states in adding a test intended to measure proficiency in civics as a condition of graduation.  Arizona, Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Louisiana, and South Carolina also have such requirements.       

The exam is 100 questions and matches part of the test given to immigrants seeking U.S citizenship.  The state requires students to answer 60 correct to pass.

Passed as part of the 2015-2017 biennial state budget, the measure has drawn criticism from some advocacy groups and praise from others.

The policy is being spearheaded nationwide by the Joe Foss Institute, an organization that describes itself as working to “close the civics education gap and prepare young Americans for civic engagement as voters and informed members of their community.”  The Civics Education Initiative was created as an arm of the Institute, assigned with the specific task of bringing this requirement to states across the country.

Indeed, the Joe Foss Institute’s affiliated programs easily clocked in the most hours and spent the most money lobbying on behalf of the bill in the 2015-2016 legislative session.

Brad Ducklow, Social Studies teacher at Oconomowoc High School, said that despite the nature of the test, not much has changed in the classroom aside from reviewing specific questions.  “For years, I have begun Citizenship with the citizenship test and I believe we address the government section through the course.”  

“I think the difficulty for students is that the test is purely fact-based and our approach is to be more active and conceptual, so remembering the basic facts needs refreshing,” he said, adding that plenty of preparatory materials are available online.

As students that have taken Citizenship know, hands-on activities are a central pillar of the course, something that remains crucial to understanding fundamentals.

“I think taking an active part in the community, educating themselves on candidates and issues, and staying informed and holding elected officials accountable by voting, writing letters, and attending forums is big,” Ducklow said.

Nonetheless, most students do just fine.  “Realistically, most of our students are able to pass with 60% on the first attempt.”

The bill was widely panned by education organizations in the state, citing it as an unnecessary burden for students and teachers.

Ducklow doesn’t think it’s unreasonable to want students to understand history and government, but added, “I don’t believe that passing or failing a test is necessarily the best measure of proficiency.”

“I would be curious to see if the long-term retention is better as a result of this requirement,” he said.


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Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Extraordinary
Wisconsin’s Mandatory Civics Exam Enters First Year