By Mary Byrne
As a member of the Social Studies 6-12 Academic Standards Work Group constituted by HB 1490, I’d like to applaud Representative Swan’s recognition of the need for ensuring students in Missouri understand their history and responsibility as American citizens in our republican form of government; and offer a recommendation to achieve a better educated Missouri student without high stakes testing in citizenship.
HB 578 Section 170.345.3 states,
. . . “The test required under subsection 2 of this section shall use the same one
10 hundred questions used by the USCIS that are administered to applicants for United States
11 citizenship. In order to receive a passing score on the test, the student shall answer at least
12 sixty of the one hundred questions correctly.
As you are aware, Arizona passed a similar bill, and in fact, a national organization, Campaign for Civic Mission of Schools (CCMS), is promoting similar legislation throughout the country. CCMS is partnered with Pearson, a testing corporation that profits from increased testing in schools. The goal is worthy of your attention, however, you may not be aware of background information that, when explained, will support what should be a substantive, long-term alternative to a potentially expensive, high-stakes test.
(1) Please note the unintended negative effects of the testing approach to assuring good citizenship discussed by Peter Levine, associate dean for research at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service:
“Requiring students to pass the citizenship exam will reduce both the amount and the quality of civic education in our schools. The test is easy. You can see all the questions and answers in advance and just memorize the right choices. If passing this exam comes to be seen as adequate preparation for citizenship, schools will notice that their students can pass after cramming for a couple of hours. They will cut their semester-long civics courses as unnecessary preparation. They will prefer to dedicate that semester to math or science, which involve much more sophisticated and challenging tests.
Requiring the citizenship exam would make sense if our students didn’t already study civics or face tests. It would establish a floor, a minimal level of competence. But more than 90% of recent high school graduates have spent a semester in a civics course, and most have also spent a year on U.S. history. Their teachers gave them tests. In many states http://www.civicyouth.org/maps/state-civic-ed/index.html, they also faced a standardized test on civics or social studies. Then why do so many adults fail basic questions about the U.S. political system? Because we have forgotten what we learned in civics class. Too often, the subject wasn’t inspiring or challenging and didn’t build habits of following and discussing the news. The problem with civics is not that we fail to teach it. The problem is that civics is often viewed as a set of disconnected facts, not as a challenging and inspiring subject that will continue to interest us after high school. Arizona’s measure requiring that students pass the citizenship test will make that problem worse. The citizenship exam requires, for instance, that you know that “27 http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_amendments_11-27.html” is the correct answer when you’re asked how many constitutional amendments have been passed. You don’t need to understand reasons for or against those amendments, or have any sense of why they were important. A month after students pass this test, they will forget the number 27. But they might retain the message that being a good citizen is a matter of memorizing some random information. That seems like an excellent way to turn people off. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/02/08/citizenship-civics-social-studies-editorials-debates/23088621/
(2) No Child Left Behind and it’s testing requirements for federal funding is at least partially responsible for emphasizing two academic subject areas, mathematics and English, while relegating knowledge and skills in history and government to the periphery of K-12 instruction. No state level legislation mandating a 100-question citizenship test will correct the neglect of teaching our children about their history and government in a meaningful way. (See Imperiling the Republic http://pioneerinstitute.org/download/imperiling-the-republic-the-fate-of-u-s-history-instruction-under-common-core/)
(3) Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, Missourians have been misinformed about their government. When the social studies standards were developed, Marc Tucker’s National Center on Education and the Economy, a Carnegie-funded non-governmental organization in Washington, DC provided consultation. The Show-Me Social Studies Standards (See Appendix A attached) expect students to know that the U.S. is a constitutional democracy. Though familiarity with the U.S. Constitution is included in the body of the social studies standards, even teachers are not familiar with Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution that states, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, . . . ” Thomas Jefferson said, our form of government was a democratical republic — the emphasis being a republic is representative form of government, rather than a democracy. A most disturbing cause for this misinformation and incorrect teaching of American students about American form of government can be traced to the Carnegie-funded publication of the American Historical Association. (See Report of the Commission of Social Studies (see highlighted sections), and Contrarians Chapter 1 attached). Similar misinformation is perpetuated in the College Board’s newly revised AP American History course. (See President of the National Association of Scholars, Peter Wood’s discussion of the misinformation in AP History http://www.nas.org/articles/the_new_ap_history_a_preliminary_reportand http://www.nas.org/articles/update_on_ap_us_history) Again, no state level legislation mandating a 100-question citizenship test will correct the neglect of teaching our children about their history and government in a truthful and meaningful way.
The Missouri State Board of Education is, at least partially, responsible for ongoing dissemination of misinformation and promulgating sub-standard social studies standards. I am aware of at least one former Missouri school board member who on three occasions contacted the state board of education to put a correction of the standards on the board agenda; however, the correction was never made. I am also aware of another Missouri citizen who contacted DESE about the error, but no remedy was offered. Only in 2015, due to pressure from legislators, instigated by questions from the academic standards work groups in social studies, has the state board made an effort to correct the error of identifying the American form of government as a constitutional democracy. (See January State Board of Ed. agenda — SocStudAcademicStandards attached)
Attached is a Thomas B. Fordham Institute report rating Missouri’s Show-Me Social Studies Standards with an F.(see SOSS MO attached) Although the method of review was not rigorous by research-method standards, competent professionals in history reviewing Missouri’s social studies standards gave them a very poor rating indeed. It should be evident that teaching Missouri’s students using high standards for knowledge and skills in history, government, and American citizenship throughout their K-12 education will produce more substantive and lasting competence for participation in America’s exceptional form of government than the test required in the bill.
(4) Also of note is that coursework in American history, government, and civics is not expected in the liberal arts education of postsecondary education program. If America is to cultivate well-educated leaders for future service in our government (which is the purpose of publically funded education as per our Missouri Constitution Article IX, Section 1a), state boards of education must ensure that a liberal arts education includes substantive study of the unique history and structure of our American government. (Losing America’s Memory attached).
Conclusion: Though HB 578 is well-intended, the requirement to make high school graduation contingent on a test for assessment knowledge of citizenship will not likely achieve the intended goal; and potentially has unknown costs to school districts as students take the test multiple times to get a passing score.
Recommendations for improving Missouri students’ knowledge and competence in citizenship are:
1. development of social studies standards that expect accurate and factual knowledge as well as competence in research skills from K through 12; and
2. work to reduce federal intrusion in state education testing and develop statewide testing that emphasizes history and civics throughout grades K-12 along with reading, math, and science;
3. exit from College Board’s AP course in American history which omits important information about events and values that are the foundation of American liberty and government;
4. postsecondary coursework in American history and government for a liberal arts education of all postsecondary undergraduates.
I am pleased to answer any questions you may have regarding my testimony. Thank you for your consideration of this information.
Mary Byrne, Ed.D.
Please be aware that Pearson, a testing and publishing corporation, is a major influence in promoting legislation that will increase testing (especially multiple opportunities of testing, which increases the cost to school districts)
Pearson partners with the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, an organization promoting the national campaign for high stakes testing in citizenship
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