Incoming college students in Missouri this fall will have to check a new box in order to graduate with an associate or bachelor’s degree.
Gov. Mike Parsons signed a bill in August 2018 that requires any student enrolling at a state college or university for the first time to pass an American civics exam with a score of 70 percent or better. The exam includes subject matter similar to a citizenship test administered to immigrants seeking permanent residence in the U.S.
The new law sets loose parameters by which the exam can be developed, including the range of questions allowed and gives the state’s institutions the ability to collaborate with each other to create a similar test.
Greg Streich, chair of the School of Social Science and Language, said interim Provost and Chief Learning Officer Mike Godard asked him to start laying out how the university would comply with the new state law.
Streich said conversations between UCM administrators and other universities has led to a plan that includes Truman State University and Missouri State University coming together with UCM to create a common approach to administering the exam.
“That’s where the Missouri Department of Higher Education could have adopted a common standard for all institutions in Missouri,” Streich said. “I don’t know exactly how many institutions there are, but theoretically we could have that many approaches.”
The test is still in the early stages of development. Streich said he is working on the content side and said there will be resources to help students prepare.
“There’s going to be study materials on Blackboard that students can use as well as a link to other materials,” he said.
The requirements of the new law state that the test must range between 50-100 questions. The plan being followed by UCM will stick to the minimum 50.
“We’re developing a test bank of 150-200 questions,” Streich said. “Provost Godard’s goal is to have a 50-question test worth two points each, so you’ll have to get 35 or more correct to pass.”
Streich said UCM’s approach is aimed at making the test feel like less of a chore to students.
“If there is a way to do this that is not intrusive or burdensome to students, then let’s figure out how to do it,” Streich said.
The UCM Faculty Senate approved a motion by a vote of 11-2 in support of the new graduation requirement. Dissenting opinion from that vote centered on how the requirement might make UCM and other Missouri institutions less attractive to incoming students.
“When you implement a test like that, a certain portion of the population is going to have trouble with it,” said Faculty Senate President Steve Price. “We have it with the GEA right now. Some people have struggled with it. Some of the classes end up teaching toward the test. Some of the international population we like to attract may be dissuaded from coming here because of these tests.”
Streich said the creation of this test was likely born from the idea that citizens should be informed about how government functions and the importance of casting an informed vote.
“With citizenship in the United States, often the first thing you think about is voting,” he said. “What you think about with voting is if we’re casting an informed vote. There’s an argument that at the very least, people who cast a vote should be able to pass the same type of civics exam that naturalized citizens take in order to become citizens.”
Streich said a challenge is getting students to look at the exam as something more than a tedious requirement on their degree audit.
“As a political scientist, I would love it if we didn’t have to reduce it to an online test,” he said. “I don’t want students to look at it like it’s just one more box you have to check in order to graduate. I wish it could be part of a larger idea that at a university, you’re here to get a degree that will help you get a job. You’re also here to become a contributing citizen in our society.”