Don't drop civics requirement for graduating students because of coronavirus
Don't drop civics requirement for graduating students because of coronavirus

Don't drop civics requirement for graduating students because of coronavirus

Who is the governor of Wisconsin?

What did Martin Luther King Jr. do?

What is one right guaranteed by the First Amendment?

High school students in Wisconsin need to get at least 65 of 100 similar questions right on the state’s civics test to earn diplomas. (The answers, of course, are Gov. Tony Evers, “fought for civil rights,” and any one of the following: the right to free speech, religion, assembly, press or petition the government.)

The simple exam with multiple-choice questions is basically the same test immigrants must pass to become U.S. citizens. Students can take it as many times as necessary to pass. It helps students understand their rights, appreciate their democracy, and participate in civic life.

But maybe not this year.

The state Department of Public Instruction recently granted local school districts some leeway on graduation requirements because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some flexibility makes sense, given reduced class time as students stay home to avoid infection. Schools across the state have been closed for weeks, with learning moving online.

But one change Wisconsin school districts should avoid is dropping the state civics test. Basic knowledge about our American system of government is profoundly important for young people and the future of our country.

So far, at least 20 of Wisconsin’s more than 400 school districts have expressed interest in a waiver from DPI to skip the test, including Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, Lake Geneva, Eau Claire, Stoughton and Platteville. A school district seeking a waiver must explain why it plans to drop the test for this year’s graduating seniors. Reasons the DPI will accept include a lack of access to technology or an inability to administer the test online or in writing.

To its credit, Madison is ramping up online learning this week so all students can connect with teachers from home. So technology shouldn’t be an issue.

Gov. Tony Evers wasn’t a fan of the civics test back when he led DPI, viewing it as a sign of distrust in schools. We view it as encouragement for districts to make sure basic civics knowledge gets the attention it deserves.

A national survey last year by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 2 in 5 adult Americans could name the three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. And barely half knew that Congress needs two-thirds votes to override a presidential veto.

The Wisconsin Newspaper Association encourages civics by sponsoring the Wisconsin Civics Games. High school students answer questions about the state budget, local elections and legislative terms.

The state civics test shouldn’t be discarded, even for one year. Understanding the basic framework of our democracy is more vital than ever during difficult times.

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