OK outflunks AZ on civics exam

Back in June, the Goldwater Institute gave a version of the United States Citizenship Test to Arizona high school students. Only 3.5 percent of students got 6 or more questions correct, reports Matthew Ladner at Jay P. Greene’s blog. To the question “What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?” 48 percent of students replied “Don’t know.”

Grim, but things get grimmer still. When high school students in Oklahoma took the exact same test, only 2.8 percent got 6 or more questions correct.

Ladner decided to take a look at the Oklahoma state standards for civics. Here’s a quote:

A social studies education encourages and enables each student to acquire a core of basic knowledge, an arsenal of useful skills, and a way of thinking drawn from many academic disciplines. Thus equipped, students are prepared to become informed, contributing, and participating citizens in this democratic republic, the United States of America.

That sounds good, except that apparently the learning isn’t happening. Students don’t know the bare basics about our government. I mean, they really don’t know it.

Ladner concludes, “These kids wouldn’t do much worse if the pollster asked them questions in Sanskrit instead of English.”

According to a binomial distribution calculator, the chances of getting at least 6 out of 10 questions correct (where each question has 4 options) is about 2 percent. So, no, they wouldn’t do much worse in Sanskrit.

Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for the tip.

Correction: In the final paragraph (regarding binomial distribution) I gave the incorrect impression that the surveys as administered to students were multiple-choice. They were not. The students had to offer their own answers to the questions.


  1. All hail Matthew Ladner, but what pray tell do civic standards have to do with it? State tests, not standards, drive instruction. Somebody else named Matthew once wrote, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” Change “treasure” to “test” and “heart” to “emphasis” and you’re there.

    And just in anticipation, I’m not opposed to testing. But we need to accept that in schools — especially struggling schools –assessments will drive instruction and plan accordingly.

  2. timfromtexas says:

    Assessment should drive instruction and plans. The problem with most schools in this country is the adults refuse to come to a decision about what is the proper end goal for a child. In other words, what do we want see in a child when he or she leaves childhood. An agreement on this is essential.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    At least their brains aren’t crammed with useless facts about dead white males and are free for critical thinking.


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  2. […] asked them questions in Sanskrit instead of English,” Ladner concludes.  Over at Joanne Jacobs, guest blogger Diana Senechal says Ladner’s right.  ”According to a binomial […]