Utah high schoolers will have to keep passing a stand-alone civics test before graduating after a bill attempting to repeal that requirement failed in the Utah House on Friday.
Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City, sponsored the repeal legislation and argued that the five-year-old testing requirement has failed to connect with students, and instead has detracted from civics education while frustrating educators.
Keeping the requirement, she said, means that students will continue to be pulled out of class to complete a multiple-choice exam that can be forgotten once it is successfully completed.
“They will not be encouraged to vote," Weight said. "They will not be encouraged to be engaged participants in their communities.”
Weight attempted to shore up support for her bill by sponsoring amendments that would have seen the test incorporated into the existing U.S. History curriculum for eighth grade students, as well as creating a civics and history task force to look at the state’s educational approach on those topics.
Her amendments came in response to a substitute bill by Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, that would have created a legislative study group on civics education in addition to maintaining the graduation requirement.
He said the stress of testing can be beneficial, as it helps students learn to cope with everyday anxieties.
“School is intended to help prepare our children for life," he said. “And quite frankly, they will face — virtually every day — stress and a need to succeed.”
The House voted 41-29 to replace Weight’s bill with Christiansen’s legislation, despite Weight’s objections. But that action was soon followed by a resounding 50-18 vote opposing the new bill, effectively ending discussion on the topic for the current legislative session and leaving in place the existing graduation requirement.
Rep. Marie Poulsen, D-Cottonwood Heights, spoke against the creation of a legislative panel to consider improvements to civics and history education, arguing that is the role of the elected state school board.
“Whose job is it to dictate curriculum to our public schools?” Poulsen said. “We’re the Legislature, but we’re not the super-school board.”
But other lawmakers had argued against repealing the test requirement, saying it promotes a basic level of civic knowledge and referring to the inability of an average resident to correctly identify the three branches or government or the rights protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want every citizen to be able to pass the citizenship test” said Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland.