Members of the Indiana House Committee on Education signaled their intent Wednesday to move forward with a bill to require all high school students take the same civics test given to immigrants before those newcomers can become a legal citizen.
However, the test won’t be required for graduation as earlier planned.
Senate Bill 132, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, originally required that students pass the test in order to graduate, a proposition that garnered opposition from both sides of the aisle.
However, Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, proposed on Wednesday an amendment that would include the civics test in the curriculum of a government course that all Hoosier high school students already take.
The proposed amendment, which a majority of education committee members are expected to ratify next week, was met with praise.
Several interest groups and committee members who originally opposed the measure flipped in support of the bill.
Tim McRoberts, associate executive director at the Indiana Association of School Principals, was originally at the hearing to testify against the bill but, after receiving notice of the amendment the day prior, IASP changed its stance.
McRoberts said he had time to randomly call four principals after receiving the proposed amendment.
“They see it as a valuable addition to the classroom,” McRoberts said.
Kruse cited a survey conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation which found that just 19 percent of adults age 45 and younger could pass the test on their first try.
In addition, the survey found that 91 percent of immigrants pass the test, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The test is given on a pass-fail measure, meaning the test-taker only has to answer 60 percent of the questions correctly in order to pass.
“I don’t think civics is being taught properly,” Kruse said, “and I think this bill address that.”
Rep. Jack Jordan, R-Bremen, said he had expected to oppose the bill prior to Wednesday’s hearing as well because he saw it as another mandate high school students have to meet in order to graduate.
Jordan said his mind was changed because of the amendment as well as the “staggering” facts Kruse presented.
Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, a math teacher, warned lawmakers that she’s worried students will memorize the answers to the test, which is available online, in order to pass and won’t retain any of the civics knowledge.
“That’s what high school kids do,” said Pfaff, a high school math teacher for more than 15 years.
Despite that concern, Pfaff said she supported the bill because of the proposed amendment.
“This is a non-partisan issue,” said Burton, who expects his amendment to be ratified and the bill to pass to a full House vote at the next committee meeting next Wednesday.