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September 30, 2016

Should Pennsylvania students have to pass a citizenship test?

Bill would require high school grads to have basic civics knowledge

Education Testing
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Can you name one of the writers of the Federalist Papers? How about one of the freedoms afforded in the First Amendment? The father of our country?

If you answered "no, no and no," you'd likely have a tough time becoming a U.S. citizen. You'd also have trouble graduating high school in Pennsylvania — that is, if state lawmakers have their way.

House Bill 1858, which has bipartisan support, would require Pennsylvania's public high school students to correctly answer at least 60 percent of the questions on a test identical to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

One of the bill's primary sponsors, state Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Allegheny, said Monday that students need to be better prepared to be "engaged as citizens in our democracy."

"Students should know who the current president of the United States is," Kortz said. "Some do not."

If passed this legislative session, the requirement would go into effect for the 2020-2021 graduating class. Last year, eight states passed similar laws.

State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Wyoming, is the bill's other primary sponsor. She said in May that teachers would have flexibility in applying the 100-question test, which uses topics that many teachers already incorporate into their curriculum.

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As noted by The Morning Call, a recent survey from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center showed a disturbing trend: Americans’ knowledge of the branches of government is declining.

The September survey found that only 26 percent of people can name the three branches of government, a "statistically significant decline since 2011."

The legislation is currently awaiting a hearing in the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

For all you youngsters reading who now feel compelled to brush up on your U.S. civics and history, you can take practice questions from the naturalization test here.