Beyond high school: Civics comprehension added to diploma requirement

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- High school diplomas got a tweak from lawmakers this year, but administrators of local education agencies say not much will change on their end.

Before this year, students were required to take a civics test before receiving a high school diploma, but Science Hill social studies teacher Jessica Schiwitz explained that it wasn’t required to pass the test.

Legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this year updates the civics test requirement – students must pass the test by at least 70 percent using 25 to 50 questions from the U.S. citizenship test.

We found a civics practice test online and listed a few example questions below:

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website

“It makes sense, if someone is going to move here and become a citizen, then they need to know these things, citizens of our country should also know these things,” she said, adding, “We want to expose them to this, but we also want to make sure there’s understanding there, and so I think that’s why they made this change to the law.”

She explained that the grade on the test has no bearing on the grade in the class and goes down in records as a pass or fail grade. Students across the state may take the test multiple times to achieve a passing grade.

In Johnson City Schools, Schiwitz said it’s typical for seniors to take either an advanced placement government class or a split government and economics class. Both classes cover material in the test.

She added that legislation required the test a few years ago, but even though it wasn’t required for students to pass the test, Science Hill students have done well on it.

“Part of the value of this test is knowing that kids understand or at least have been exposed to these things before we set them loose on the big wide world,” she said.

Assistant Kingsport City School Superintendent Andy True said Kingsport students usually take a government class their sophomore year, and teachers embed students with civics information throughout a student’s high school career.

“I think at its core the goal here is to ensure students leave high school with the knowledge of civics, with the knowledge of our history as a society and that then better prepares them to be successful once they leave high school,” True said.

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