Volunteers unfurl a giant banner printed with the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
The state has issued a new Florida Civic Literacy Examination to assess how well public school students understand what’s called “civic literacy.” Kids in a U.S. government course are required to take the new exam that covers everything from landmark Supreme Court cases to influential documents in American history to basic principles about how government functions.
But so far, the first-time results are low: Only 37 percent of students passed in the 2021-22 school year. Students can pass with at least 60 percent correct answers on the computer-based exam, which includes approximately 80 items.
There’s no specified grade level for the test, according to the Florida Department of Education. But students in 6th to 12th grades are eligible if they’re enrolled in a U.S. government course.
The baseline results from the exam note that 58,745 students passed out of 157,091 students who took the exam in the 2021-22 school year, according to department data.
The data set also shows that students in the Jefferson County School District in North Florida appear to have struggled the most on the new test. Only one student out of 31 who took the exam, passed. That would be a 3 percent passing rate.
The next lowest performing district was in Glades County, in south central Florida, where 5 out of 58 students passed, or 9 percent.
The school district with the highest percentage of students passing was a lab-school based out of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. At the FAU lab school, 98 percent of 46 students passed the new civics exam.
The next highest passing rates goes to St. Johns School District in Northeast Florida and the Santa Rosa School District in the Panhandle, both with a 57 percent passing rate. St. Johns had 2,039 students take the exam, and Santa Rosa had 1,905 students take the exam.
The civic literacy exam had two testing windows: Oct. 25 — December 17, 2021, and April 11 — May 27, 2022.
Bob Holladay, an adjunct professor of history with Tallahassee Community College who has been following the development of the civic literacy exam for years, told the Phoenix that he’s not “terribly upset” that there was not a high percent of students passing this year, because there’s another chance to pass the exam in college.
“37%…is that good? I mean, of course not. Of course it’s not good,” he told the Phoenix. “You want more, but this is the first year for this.”
He said it wouldn’t surprise him to see the percent of K-12 students passing the exam to increase over a couple years.
“Let this thing get in place and sort of get going for a couple of years and let’s see,” he added.
Since 2019, when Gov. Ron DeSantis came into office and initially declared his intention to require all high school seniors to take a civics exam, the road to a new civic literacy assessment has been a rocky one for both high school and college.
Previous attempts to get a statewide civic literacy exam were unpopular, with critics saying they appeared to dumb down civic literacy for Florida students.
Along with the new civic literacy exam, the Florida education system has been surrounded by debates over how civics and U.S. history should be taught in school, particularly when it comes to racism and slavery.
In June of 2021, state education officials voted to ban materials from the New York Times’ 1619 Project from being used in classrooms and an academic lens called critical race theory from Florida classrooms.
Critics see the new rule as an attempt to chill and suppress frank discussions about the history of the Black experience in America.
The 1619 Project recontextualizes American history by centering the narrative around Black Americans and how slavery shaped the founding of the United States.
Meanwhile, critical race theory is a decades-old academic study that started in graduate level law schools and focuses on how laws and the justice system upholds systems of oppression, particularly when it comes to Black Americans, though the use of the term has expanded into other areas.
A month later, the state Board of Education adopted new civic standards that would shape how civics and history is taught in class. The new civic standards were also heavily criticized for ‘whitewashing’ American history in regards to racism and slavery.
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