Florida Governor: High School Seniors Should Pass a Civics Exam Similar to Citizenship Test

December 16, 2019 Updated: December 16, 2019

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently proposed a plan that would evaluate high school seniors based on their understanding of the country’s history and founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

DeSantis said that he wanted Florida’s 12th graders to pass a civics test that is similar to the citizenship exam immigrants must pass to obtain U.S. citizenship.

“A primary objective in the state of Florida for education has to be to prepare our students for citizenship,” DeSantis said on Dec. 10 during a news conference. “You may need some skills you learned in school, you may not need others, but no matter what you do, you are going to be required to exercise the duties of citizenship.”

The Republican governor said this civics education initiative “shouldn’t even need to be something we’re even discussing,” but “given the trends that we’re seen in the country,” the effort became necessary.

“Most surveys typically show that less than 25 percent of young people are capable of answering basic questions about American government and American civics,” said DeSantis. “We have to do better.”

Civic literacy is not high on a national scale. U.S. Department of Education reports that only 23 percent of eighth-graders achieved “proficient” level in civics on the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or “the nation’s report card.”

Florida, however, is one of the leading states in K-12 civics education. Florida students are required to pass a civics course in order to graduate from middle school. The state’s department of education reports (pdf) that 71 percent of students passed that course last year.

The state law also requires high school seniors to take a U.S history course, which includes a test that accounts for 30 percent of the grade. In 2018, 69 percent of high school students scored “satisfactory” and above in a U.S. history test, the best result since 2013 when the test was first administrated.

“My hope is that we get to the point where the students are very proficient in civics, where this is something that is taken very seriously across the entire state and all of our school districts,” DeSantis said.

“It’s not something that you may immediately see a payoff for,” he added. “But if we do it right, and then we look back in 10 or 20 years, I think we’ll say, ‘Man it’s a good thing that Florida decided to really take civics, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence seriously.'”