Bill would require Nebraska students to pass civics exam

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska could require high school students to pass the federal government's civics exam for United States citizenship under a bill introduced Monday in the Legislature.

The proposal by state Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha would require students to answer at least 70 percent of the test's questions correctly before they could graduate. If passed, the bill would go into effect during the 2017 school year.

The test for aspiring citizens is administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, with an agency officer asking up to 10 questions from a list of 100. Passing the test requires a score of at least 60 percent.

The questions touch on American government, geography and history, including "When was the constitution written?" and "How old do citizens have to be to vote for president?"

Krist said he proposed the measure to ensure that high school students graduate with at least a basic knowledge of civics. The bill was brought to him by the Joe Foss Institute, a national nonprofit that advocates for more civics education in schools.

"There are folks who even as educated adults could stand to have a refresher on their civics and the United States," Krist said. "I think we all should be concerned about what citizens know about their constitution and government in general."

The Joe Foss Institute launched the effort last year in legislatures throughout the country, and nine states passed new requirements: Idaho, Utah, Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Tennessee and South Carolina.

The group has seen strong bipartisan support in all of the states that have considered a civics requirement so far, said Lucian Spataro, chairman of education initiatives for the Joe Foss Institute.

Spataro said schools nationwide have shifted their focus toward science and math because of testing mandates, and the Nebraska bill would require renewed attention on civics. The group hopes to pass similar legislation in all 50 states by 2017.

"If students know something is going to be on a test, they lean forward and they're engaged," Spataro said. "If they know it's not, they're disengaged and they drift off. We want civics to be on a test that matters."

The U.S. Department of Education reported last year that 23 percent of eighth-graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam scored well enough to be considered "proficient" in civics. Twenty-six percent were considered "below basic."

John Spatz, executive director of the Nebraska Association of School Boards, said he did not know whether his group would support the bill because a committee of its members hadn't yet reviewed it.

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