The Forum | General Education

ACTA Survey Prompts Civics Revival in North Dakota

February 24, 2015

Back in December, ACTA was thrilled to learn that North Dakota’s superintendent and the state’s first lady were championing a bill to require high school seniors to pass a civics test before graduation. This month, we are happy to report, that bill was signed into law!

This is great news for North Dakota’s high school students, who will now enter college a step ahead of their peers in other states. It is also great news for ACTA, as our 2012 study of historical literacy played a major role in the bill’s proposal and passage. The lead sponsor, Rep. Mike Nathe, cited ACTA’s historical literacy survey as evidence of how poorly our nation’s college students perform in history and civics.

He argued that poor instruction in these subjects at the elementary and secondary levels contribute to the dismal state of historical knowledge among college students. ACTA couldn’t agree more. Though we argue that colleges are obligated to equip students with this knowledge through remediation if they do arrive without it, more attention to these subjects in high schools could do a great deal to lighten the load on colleges. It would also allow them to cover these subjects with the depth and breadth appropriate for college students—building on basics learned in high school.

The decision makes North Dakota the second state to pass a civics test requirement this year, following Arizona, which passed a similar law in January. The exam will require high school seniors to correctly answer at least 70 of the Immigration and Naturalization test’s 100 questions on U.S. history and government. The law goes into effect for the 2016-17 school year. Currently, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Dakota are considering following suit. The tide is turning on civic education and ACTA raises three cheers to North Dakota as it leads the charge!


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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