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Middle schoolers will soon have to pass a civics exam before promotion

By Staff | Apr 28, 2010

Students in middle school will soon be required to pass a final exam in civics education in order to be promoted to high school, according to a bill signed by Gov. Charlie Crist.
Florida Senate Bill 4 not only requires students to take end-of-course exams in math and science, but it also requires seventh graders to take a civics class and eighth graders to have passed an exam to move on to high school.
Cindy McClung, social studies coordinator for the Lee County School District, said the new civics test goes into effect for incoming sixth graders in the 2012-2013 school year.
The legislation, named “The Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act,” was signed by Crist on April 20 and will change the school district’s current social studies curriculum for middle school.
“That would change our curriculum at this point,” McClung.
She explained that final details are being worked out, but there is talk on both sides on whether the civics class will last one semester or a full academic year.
Cape Coral High Social Studies teacher Andrew Gascon, who serves as faculty advisor for the school’s Youth In Government club, said the new requirement may generate more student interest in politics as they enter high school.
“From the perspective of someone advising the Youth In Government club, I like the idea of having civics put back in the middle school curriculum,” he said.
As a high school teacher, Gascon said some ninth graders find it difficult to understand modern government and civics. He said most learn about government in a historical context — the formation of the republic in 1776, for example — but when it comes to the modern applications of government, some become lost.
Educating students on government and civics may even increase the number of people who become active in the legislative process or who vote.
The push to provide students with a well-rounded education in American government, history and political or social movements has waned over the last few generations, and as a result educational experts point out that, at most, Americans only have a basic understanding of how government works.
In Florida, social studies remains the only core subject never tested on the FCAT. And it wasn’t until 2006 that the state began requiring students to take an FCAT science exam. One of the effects of SB 4 is the phasing out of both FCAT math and science exams and the use of end-of-course exams instead.
According to a civics assessment administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an organization which measures student achievement in different subject areas, about two out of three American students in grades four, eight and 12 have at least a basic knowledge of civics. This assessment was given in 2006 and results from the 2010 assessment won’t be available next year.
Only students in the fourth grade had made any improvement in their knowledge of civics between 1998 to 2006, according to the NAEP, and eighth graders made no gains since 1998, with only 22 percent scoring “proficient,” which is one step above “basic.”
Education experts also point out that lack of civic knowledge isn’t only characteristic of grade school students, but adults as well.
In 2008 the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative organization, tested about 2,500 American adults from different academic backgrounds on their civic knowledge, and the overall score was 49 percent.
SB 4 also reportedly requires all high school students to pass end-of-course exams in geometry, biology, physics, chemistry and algebra II to graduate. These exams will be fully implemented by 2015.