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Bills Requiring Civics Tests For High School, College Students Move Ahead In Legislature

A bill requiring students in the university and community college systems of New Hampshire to pass a civics naturalization test as part of their diploma requirements passed the House by one vote on Thursday.

The measure passed by a vote of 188-187. The House previously passed a similar measure that requires high school students to pass the assessment. If it becomes law, students who passed the test wouldn’t have to take it again in college. The state Senate passed the high school bill on Thursday, and now will take up the college one.

Legislators from both parties lamented the dearth of civics knowledge and engagement among college students. But their opinions differed on whether administering and taking the online, 128-question U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services civics naturalization test would be an effective way to improve that.

“Let’s face it: Is knowing why Dwight Eisenhower was famous, or being able to name five of the 13 colonies, is that knowledge really important to students’ lives today?” state Rep. Douglas Ley, a Democrat from Jaffrey, asked. “We have a thing called the internet: Look it up.”

Ley said he was concerned that requiring the test would not improve civics knowledge, but instead, trivialize it.

Other lawmakers questioned whether it would turn off out-of-state students who are considering applying to New Hampshire’s public university and college system.

There also was concern about how students from other countries would feel about taking the test, but Rep. Michael Moffett, a Republican from Loudon, said they would be exempt.

Moffett, the bill’s sponsor, said requiring public college students to pass the test would create a broad knowledge base, a foundation common to all college graduates and raise the value of a college diploma. He said several other states, most recently Florida and Missouri, have similar requirements.

“If you’re comfortable with — well, I hate to say it — ignorant, low-information college graduates who can’t name their U.S. senator, much less know who their state rep is,” then vote against the bill, he said.

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