Iowa high school students would have to pass the U.S. citizenship test in order to graduate if a bill that cleared the Iowa Senate this week becomes law. Senator Jerry Behn, a Republican from Boone, said students would be able to take the exam once a year, starting in 7th grade, giving them plenty of time to pass it.
“We already have to have a lot of tests in high school,” Behn said during senate debate, “and tt was felt this particular test would help teach a little bit more civics.”
Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, is a high school teacher who said the questions in the exam are too easy.
“Right now this bill focuses on rote-memory questions,” Bowman said. “There’s not one question in this exam that Alexa couldn’t answer. ‘Hey, Alexa. What are the first three words to the constitution?’ “We, the People.'”
Bowman said the exam has nothing to do with showing a student knows how American government works or is inspired to fulfill their civic duty. Democratic Senator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids argued test anxiety may prevent some kids from graduating from high school.
“The really dark, nasty underside of this bill is invariably there are going to be some kids who fail,” Hogg said, “and you relegate them to a lifetime of economic distress.”
The bill passed the Senate on a 38-12 vote this week, but may not pass the House. In January, Representative Walt Rogers, a Republican from Cedar Falls, introduced a similar bill.
“I just think it’s common sense that kids should know a little bit of basic civics when they come out of high school. I remember, when I had to graduate from UNI, I had to take just a basic writing class and so this is just something that I think is the right thing to do,” Rogers said during an appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program. “…Honestly I think Iowa does a pretty good job, but this is just kind of a statement that says they have to pass this test. By doing that they have to focus a little bit on what our history is, what our government is and maybe get a little more excited about becoming a Senator or a Representative someday.”
However, Rogers announced in mid-February that his bill did not have enough votes to pass the House Education Committee. Rogers is chairman of the panel.