Standardized testing

In this file photo from 2012, Conestoga Valley students take benchmark tests for the Keystone Exams.

THE ISSUE

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is mulling over House Bill 1858 — co-sponsored by Republican state Rep. Bryan Cutler of Peach Bottom — which would require high school students beginning in the 2020-21 academic year to pass a civics test before graduating. The exam would be similar to those taken by immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. To pass, students would need a score of at least 60 percent.

Many of us have fond memories of civics lessons in school. We watched videos of cartoon characters singing about how each branch of government works or how a bill becomes a law.

Admit it: You’re humming the “I’m just a bill” song right now.

But, starting a few years from now, students may not be humming as much as groaning at the mention of civics.

Because as if there wasn't already enough pressure on students today, 46 state representatives have come up with the bright idea to add another high-stakes exam.

We are strongly opposed to this idea.

As Conestoga Valley Superintendent Gerald Huesken pointedly asked in Monday’s LNP, “With all the negative backlash that we are testing too much, why is the answer always to add another test?”

Excellent question.

It may sound like a broken record — it does to us — but we believe that the deluge of standardized tests has severely diluted the educational experience.

“So much creativity, so much time for other subjects, has been squeezed out of public education by seemingly endless standardized tests and their accompanying practice tests,” we wrote in July.

Stuffing a student’s head with facts and handing them a paper with 100 bubbles to fill in is not the way to emphasize the importance of civics, a subject we agree merits more attention.

While we understand that Cutler and company have good intentions — to mold students into well-educated citizens — more memorization, more stress and more anxiety are not the answer.

Eastern Lancaster County School District Superintendent Bob Hollister agrees: “I truly love my country and all that it stands for and all that we try to be, but having students memorize facts about it is not going to make, by force, better citizens.”

Social studies and government classes already teach how government works and what it means to be a productive citizen. Some classes — at Ephrata High School, for example — take the 100-question citizenship test at the start and finish of a high school government class. That decision is up to the teacher, not the legislators, as it should be.

(We confess that we are curious as to how lawmakers supporting this initiative would score on the civics test they are so enthusiastically pushing for students.)

There are opportunities after school to experience civics firsthand. The Boy Scouts of America, for example, requires Scouts pursuing an Eagle rank to conduct “a service project helpful to any religious institution, any school, or your community.” Organizations such as marching bands, sports teams and school clubs often incorporate a service component.

These opportunities go a long way toward preparing our children to be engaged citizens. And they’re already yielding results.

Last year’s Millennial Impact Report, by the research group Achieve and sponsored by the Case Foundation, showed that 84 percent of millennials made a charitable donation in 2014. The study also found that 70 percent of millennials spent at least an hour volunteering, with more than one-third volunteering 11 hours or more.

There’s no doubt that millennials want to make our country a better place. This November, they have a great opportunity to do just that. To help them become an informed electorate, our educational system needs to be top-notch.

That does not, however, require more testing.

We’re glad that some Lancaster lawmakers, such as Democratic state Rep. Mike Sturla and Republican state Sen. Lloyd Smucker, agree.

We’re tired of other legislators nibbling at the edges of education reform by slapping more exams on students’ desks.

Maybe this time they’ll get the hint.

Oct. 11 is the deadline to register to vote in Pennsylvania. Election day is Nov. 8.

Download a voter registration form at votespa.com and mail it to: Lancaster County Voter Registration Office, 150 N. Queen St., Suite 117, Lancaster PA 17603; it must be postmarked no later than Oct. 11. You also may register in person at that office.

Register online: votespa.com