A study by the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning & Engagement at Tufts University has found that most states do not emphasize civic education, which includes learning about citizenship, government, law, current events and related topics.
In the current school year, 21 states require a state-designed social studies test — a significant decrease from 2001, when 34 states conducted regular assessments on social studies subjects. Only nine states require students to pass a social studies test to graduate from high school: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Georgia’s will be phased out, but Maryland and Florida are slated to add high-stakes tests.
Although 39 states require at least one course in American government or civics, only eight states administer statewide, standardized tests specifically in civics/American government: California, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. Of those, Ohio and Virginia are the only ones that require students to pass said test in order to graduate from high school.
The study also points out that since 2000, social studies assessments have shifted from a combination of multiple-choice and performance tasks — like essays — to almost exclusively multiple-choice exams.
“States are, to a greater extent, using multiple-choice only tests that focus primarily on memorizing information, rather than demonstrating civic skills,” the report states.
The shift away from civic education over the past decade can be partially attributed to federal policies like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. According to CIRCLE, recent research suggests states have shifted educational resources away from social studies toward subjects that appear on statewide assessments.
“Social studies courses such as history, civics, and economics provide students with the necessary civic skills and knowledge to be effective 21st century citizens,” the report concludes. “However, since the passage of No Child Left Behind, many states have shifted focus away from social studies and have dramatically reduced the number of social studies assessments.”
According to a poll conducted from June 22-July 2, 2012 by CIRCLE for the Youth Education Fund, 80 percent of the young voters surveyed were either unable to answer or were incorrect about their state’s early registration rules — suggesting a lack of emphasis given to current events and voting in state civics requirements.