Senator wants civics test as graduation requirement

Quick civics quiz: When was the U.S. Constitution drafted?

What are three powers of government?

How many justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court?

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Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls

A Twin Falls legislator wants Idaho high school students to be able to answer those questions and others like it as a graduation requirement.

The Senate Education Committee Wednesday introduced a new bill to require Idaho high school students pass a 100-question civics test.

For the class of 2017, that would mean students must score 60 percent or better. After that, the threshold jumps to 70 percent.

“The man on the street, obviously, most of the time doesn’t know, probably when the Constitution was written,” said Sen. Jim Patrick, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s a way to encourage civics.”

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Patrick, by the way, didn’t know the answer to his man-on-the-street question either. He told committee members that the Constitution was drafted in 1787 – a fact that he admitted to looking up before presenting his bill.

The civics test would contain questions from the test administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for naturalization. That test is slightly different, though. Citizenship officers ask just 10 questions from the 100-question bank, with candidates required to answer just six correctly.

Under Patrick’s bill, high school students could take the test in one sitting or in several pieces. Students would also be eligible to take the test any time after enrolling in seventh grade, meaning they would essentially have six years to pass.

The committee voted quickly to introduce the bill without any debate. It is expected to return to the committee for a full hearing.

In other Senate Education news:

New anti-SBAC bill. Two legislators teamed up to try a different approach to allowing Idaho students to opt out of Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced tests.

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Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, and Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, are pushing a bill to allow students to take an alternate assessment that would satisfy graduation requirements. Thayn and Harris did not mention the state’s ISAT by Smarter Balanced test by name during the introductory hearing, but the legislation makes the intent pretty clear.

The bill reads, in part, “If any such requirement includes the passage of a standards achievement test, then the student, with parental or guardian approval, may, in lieu, of such test, chose an alternate route…”

Said Thayn: “There is some concern about the students’ ability to perform well on lengthy, high-stakes tests. Some parents are concerned about their child’s emotional well-being. Some would like an alternative path, and don’t feel like a standardized test measures student competency in achievement.”

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Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian

By rule, alternative assessments are already available and given in Idaho, but such tests are typically given to students who have special needs or cannot complete the full ISAT.

State superintendent Sherri Ybarra has already said Idaho’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act requires Idaho to administer the ISAT by Smarter Balanced test this year. She said any school that does not test 95 percent of its students would be downgraded on annual achievement and accountability reports.

Additionally, Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, repeated concerns that not testing students could result in a loss of federal funds.

Harris and Thayn said they did not know the answer to Ward-Engelking’s question.

During debate over the future of the Idaho Education Network broadband contract mess, state officials have said that anywhere between $620,000 and $245 million could be jeopardized if Idaho does not fulfill testing requirements.

Earlier this session, freshman Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, introduced a bill that urged Ybarra to “immediately” begin pulling Idaho out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Nate’s bill would also prevent any student from having to answer SBAC questions as a graduation requirement. However, Nate went around the House and Senate education committees and introduced his legislation as a personal bill. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, then referred Nate’s bill to the House Ways and Means Committee, which has only met a single time this session – on Jan. 14.

Sunshine reports. Freshman Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, introduced a bill to require school board candidates to file campaign finance reports – just like candidates for other offices.

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Sen. Mary Souza, R- Coeur d’Alene

Souza testified that Idaho is one of only three states – joining Alaska and North Dakota – that does require school board candidates to disclose campaign contributions and other related information.

“This bill offers transparency,” Souza told lawmakers.

Senate Education quickly voted to introduce her bill.