DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers could require that students pass a civics exam in order to receive a high school diploma.
The test covers a basic knowledge of American democracy, its system of government and history, and is the same one immigrants take to become U.S. citizens.
“It’s common sense that kids today should have an understanding of basic U.S. civics,” said Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, who chairs the House education committee. He introduced the bill, which has been referred to a subcommittee.
House Study Bill 573 would require students to correctly answer at least 60% of the questions on the exam given by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the same percentage required of immigrants who want to become citizens.
The federal agency has identified 100 questions covering a range of civics knowledge, from a citizen’s rights and responsibilities to the United States’ history, geography and symbolism.
Similar proposals have been introduced in Iowa before and have passed in multiple other states. The effort is sought by national groups, including Civics Education Initiative and the Joe Foss Institute.
It also comes at a time when many Americans can’t answer basic questions about their government.
More than one-third can’t name any of the rights protected by the First Amendment, according to a 2017 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
In addition, only 26% of Americans can name all three branches of government.
“I think it’s good that our students understand the civics of our country,” Rogers said.
The idea is to use the same questions used in a naturalization interview, when immigrants are asked 10 non-multiple choice questions from a list of 100. It’s not clear if Iowa students would answer all 100 questions.
If the proposal passes, the civics exam would be the first test required to earn a high school diploma or its equivalency in Iowa. Testing would begin in the 2019-20 school year. An alternative exam would be developed for special education students or those learning English.
Students could take the test as many times as necessary in order to pass. The exam would be offered at least once a year starting in seventh grade, the bill says.
Passing the civics exam would be required of all students in public school districts and accredited non-public schools.