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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Test reading and civics at the same time

Only 6 percent of eighth-graders can read Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech and identify two ideas from the Constitution or Declaration of Independence, writes Ross Wiener, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Education & Society Program.

That's among the "dismal" civics and history results from the Nation’s Report Card, he writes.

"Only 30% of Millennials think a democratic government is essential," and "most Millennials say that if Russia invaded the United States, they would not fight to defend our country," he adds. "The nation needs to recommit public schools to their foundational purpose: preparing young Americans for citizenship."

Wiener suggests embedding social studies content in statewide reading assessments. If students are testing on their ability to read and understand civics and history topics, schools will have an incentive to teach that content.

Louisiana's innovative reading test draws from books students have read in class and related topics, he writes. Early research shows achievement gaps narrowing.

Louisiana's tests are more equitable and accurate, writes Great Minds' Lior Klirs on Education Post. Reading comprehension relies on background knowledge. When reading tests use random passages, students with lots of "knowledge-building opportunities outside of school — a home library, trips to museums, travel — have an advantage." Testing on what's been taught levels the playing field.

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