Let's Talk About the "Required" Constitution Test

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash
As I have traveled around the state of Illinois to support implementation of the high school civics requirement and pending middle school civics legislation, one of the biggest concerns I have heard is, “How will we have time to prepare students for the required Constitution test? I will never have time to cover all 200 questions on the test if I have to make time for student-centered inquiry, discussions, simulations, and service learning!”

The Illinois State Board of Education states:
American patriotism and the principles of representative government, as enunciated in the American Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and the proper use and display of the American flag, shall be taught in all public schools and other educational institutions supported or maintained in whole or in part by public funds. No student shall receive a certificate of graduation without passing a satisfactory examination upon such subjects. 105 ILCS 5/27 3 (from Ch. 122, par. 27 3)

This provision requires that students receive instruction and examination on the U.S. and Illinois State Constitutions - but does NOT mandate a 100-200 question multiple choice examination of disparate facts. The choice of how to measure student growth is left to local control.

The new Illinois Social Science standards and civics mandates require new thinking about assessment. Just as passing the Rules of the Road exam does not sufficiently demonstrate a person is ready to operate a motor vehicle; the ability to pass a 200 question Constitution Test does not illustrate adequate preparation for civic life.

One of the key questions when designing instruction and examination based on the standards and the civics mandate is, “how will we know students have learned it?” A select-item multiple choice exercise could be a starting point to measure aspects of knowledge, but what about the skills and dispositions associated with civic engagement? Educators have identified the need to create assessments where students can demonstrate competency in these areas “beyond the bubble.”

To this end, Illinois Civics is partnering with the American Institutes for Research - Midwest Comprehensive Center to support teachers in creating performance assessments that not only measure student growth in civics, but enhance the learning process. These one day workshops will introduce educators to strategies to build classroom performance assessment tasks in civics aligned to the standards where students get opportunities to demonstrate what they are learning. Educators will walk away with resources, tools, and templates to create their own classroom performance assessment tasks in civics. Two workshops are scheduled this summer and more will be available throughout the state in the fall. The workshops are based on The Center for Standards and Assessment Implementation Assessment Design Toolkit - a great resource for educators looking to rethink how they assess student learning.

What are some ways you are rethinking assessment per the Illinois Social Science standards and civics requirements? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career, and civic life.


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