A stunning study of national civics education in high schools shows that only nine states require students to pass a rigorous social studies test to graduate, and only two--Ohio and Virginia--use a standardized test, a finding that helps to explain why younger Americans are tuning out the politics and the presidential election.
The study from a Tufts University youth research group revealed that schools nationwide are radically reducing their support for studies in government, citizenship, law and current events. Also, the number of states requiring a state civics tests has dropped by a third.
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, 21 states require a state-designed social studies test, down from 34 in 2001. Only nine states require students to pass that civics test to graduate and just two, Ohio and Virginia, use a standardized test.
Instead, most states simply require students to pass civics, normally via a multiple choice survey that the group said doesn't require a deep knowledge of how government works.
In a fact sheet provided to Secrets, the group said, "assessments have shifted from a combination of multiple-choice questions, essay questions, and other assignments to almost exclusively multiple-choice exams since 2000, meaning that the material tested tends to be relatively simple facts rather than the ability to apply information and skills to complex situations."
A recent poll by the group found one problem resulting from weak civics courses in high schools: Sizable majorities of high schoolers don't understand their state voting rules.
"Social studies courses such as history, civics, and economics provide students with the necessary civic skills and knowledge to be effective 21st century citizens," urged the Tufts group.
The group suggests that the Bush-era No Child Left Behind act has prompted states to shift focus away from social studies in favor of math and English, which are tested more.