Lawmakers discuss civics test before high school graduation

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Should students have to take a civics test in order to graduate high school? Lawmakers discussed that question at the Capitol today.

According to a national study, only 24 percent of U.S. high school students are proficient in civics, and one-third of U.S. adults cannot name one branch of government.

Today, Pennsylvania lawmakers looked into how to improve these numbers.

“How many U.S. Senators are there?” we asked Cate Llewellyn, a senior at Camp Hill High School.

“Senators: 100, Representatives: 435,” she responded.

We asked her classmate Zoey Raney, “Who signs bills into laws?”

“The president,” she answered.

Those are questions from the U.S. Civics Test, and our Camp Hill seniors are making us proud. But the truth is, national studies show less than a quarter of our country’s high schoolers are proficient in civics.

Judge Marjorie Rendell says, “It’s quite scary because we’re entrusting our democracy with the next generation and we’re not educating them.”

As a judge, Rendell says she is discouraged that our youth are not educated in government and law, which is why she started the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement.

At a hearing with the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee and the House Education Committee, Rendell urges Pennsylvania lawmakers to go one step further: a law requiring high schoolers pass a civics test–the same one we require immigrants to take before they’re granted citizenship.

“It’s very basic,” she says, “It’s not something that is high-stakes testing that kids have…to me it’s common sense.”

So far, 14 states have passed this law, with 22 others considering. Yet some Pennsylvania lawmakers aren’t convinced.

Rep. Patty Kim, a Democrat in Dauphin County, says, “The testing for high school students is too much. It causes stress, and that’s not what we want to happen. We want them to understand the content and American history portion.”

There are 100 questions on the civics test. Immigrants are given ten and asked to answer six correctly. Lawmakers haven’t discussed the number of questions it would ask students if this passed. They say the discussion is still in the early stages.

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