In the Classroom

Should we add one more state test to students' workload?

No one can fault State Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, for wanting to make sure Idaho students know more about their country’s government before graduating from high school.

Patrick worries that Idaho’s headlong rush to turn out students versed in science, technology, engineering and math is giving civics education short shrift. So he’s behind a bill that would require high school students to pass a civics test before graduating. They would need to get 70 out of 100 questions correct.

If you ever watched “Jaywalking” on the old "Tonight Show with Jay Leno," you no doubt rolled your eyes when people on the street couldn’t say when the Declaration of Independence was adopted, what the three branches of government are, what month Americans elect their president, or what country Americans fought in the Revolutionary War.

There’s a time-honored axiom in education: What gets tested gets taught. Such a test would likely mean schools would make sure there is emphasis on American government.

But Patrick’s test would have to take a number and get in line. Idaho schools are already filled with state-required achievement tests.

For starters, there is the upcoming test on the Idaho Core Standards that will be given in grades 3 through 8, and perhaps multiple times in high school. Lawmakers are debating now as to whether to make passage a graduation requirement.

Tenth-graders take the Preliminary SAT (originally an acronym for Scholastic Aptitude Test) and 11th-graders take the SAT.

Students in grades 5, 7 and 10 take a science achievement test.

Elementary students in kindergarten through third grade take the Idaho Reading Indicator, a 10-minute reading test, twice a year.

Now there is the possibility of a civics test.

Years ago, I heard a radio commentator lament about a student who said he knew Florida was an island because he had to fly to get there. My question: Should we also be looking at a test to cure geographical ignorance?

None of this should be taken as meaning that Patrick’s idea isn’t valid.

The greater question is: When is there enough testing? Have we already passed that point?