Last year, North Dakota became the second state in the nation to adopt the requirement, which is based on the Immigration and Naturalization test covering questions about government and history.
Eighth- and 11th-grade students are taking the online test for the first time at the end of this month.
Students who graduate next year must achieve 60 percent or greater proficiency on the test to pass, while those who graduate in 2018 and each subsequent year must achieve 70 percent proficiency.
Grand Forks students may have been the first in the state to experience the test. In 2014, district social studies teachers heard about the civics test bill from Superintendent Larry Nybladh, who attended Legislative committee hearings while the bill was being discussed.
That year, they developed a 25-question pretest. Of 2,065 students who took the test, 88 percent were proficient, said Gabe Dahl, assistant principal at Central High School and civics test committee member.
This gave school administrators confidence students will do well on the real test this year, he said.
The process of developing an oral test into a multiple-choice version proved to be an exciting and welcome challenge for social studies teachers, Dahl said. A committee of 11 teachers developed the test in October.
They were happy the subject matter was getting its due, he said.
“If you look at state assessments, social studies has never been tested before,” he said. “When the (bill passed), our social studies teachers said, ‘Hey, people are finally seeing this is essential knowledge kids need to know.'”
Testing, time, work
Students are taking the test during their U.S. History class whenever it best fits each school’s schedule, Dahl said.
U.S. History is offered only the eighth or 11th grade year in the district. Students are required to take only one unit to fulfill high school graduation requirements.
Support will be given for students who don’t meet proficiency, including retesting “as many times as they need to be successful,” Dahl said.
Students can even take it during their senior year government class, which covers content related to 70 percent of test questions.
“We want to have as many options for them to be as successful as possible,” he said.
Teachers specifically targeted the grade level and time of year to coincide with when the material is most often taught, Dahl said. They also spent a significant time debating what grade levels would take the test, what time of the year would be best to administer it and question phrasing.
“There was one question that probably took about 15-20 minutes (for everyone to agree) it was right,” he said.
The pretest results did not reveal any specific academic weakness. Results also helped administrators realize the strength of the district’s American government curriculum, which covers the principles of democracy, systems of government, responsible citizenship and other topics, said Terry Bohan, principal of Community High School.
Continuous student exposure to recurring concepts, starting in sixth grade, helped students succeed on the pretest, he said.
“It seems that students do very well in American government,” he said.
District teachers will use test results now and in the future to determine errors in question phrasing, teaching or if students should have known the answers, Dahl said.
Students will continue to be tested in their eighth- and 11th-grade years. The district wants to use the results for state testing and also a way to track academic growth, he said.