INDIANAPOLIS — The frustration is real for state Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and state Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Centerville.
Few people in their legislative districts seem to know what a state senator does, and others believe they work in Washington, D.C.
To try to change that, Kruse and Raatz on Thursday led the Republican-controlled Senate in approving a plan to require all Indiana students to pass the U.S. citizenship exam typically administered to immigrants to earn a high school diploma.
"Constituents don't know that we're state senators; we don't belong in Washington, D.C," Raatz said. "I'm not being critical of them; they just don't understand the system."
Kruse agreed, saying, "We have many young people in our country, and in the state of Indiana, who do not know a lot of simple information on our government and on our country and some of our history."
Under Senate Bill 132, students will be required to memorize the answers to the U.S. citizenship exam and correctly recall at least 60 out of 100 or they'll be denied a high school diploma, even if they've satisfied all other graduation requirements, including earning passing grades in two semesters of U.S. history and one semester of U.S. government.
"I think memorization is excellent. We memorize stuff constantly, all the time, in our life. It's a wonderful method of learning," Kruse said.
If the proposal also is approved by the Republican-controlled House, Hoosier students still won't be learning or memorizing any facts about their state senators. There are no questions about the structure or operation of state government on the U.S. citizenship test.
An opponent of the measure, state Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said he understands and supports the goal of improving what Hoosiers know about government.
But he said making it a high school graduation requirement is the wrong way to go about it.
"This concerns me as one more mandate that we're going to put on our teachers and our students," Melton said. "Some students are just not excellent test-takers."
State Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, added that forcing students to memorize facts about American government in high school isn't going to make them more likely to recognize their state senator years or decades later.
"If you think about those kids that can't remember certain details from American history when they're asked on the spot, think about what else they would have forgotten from their high school years," Stoops sad.
"Whether it's math or English or any other subject, chances are they're not going to be able to give a correct answer to those, either."
State Sen. Andy Zay, R-Huntington, noted that just 38 percent of high school students last year passed the 10th grade math exams.
He said Indiana doesn't need to make civics into another a high-stakes test that potentially keeps students from earning a diploma.
"This is important information that needs to be mastered by all our kids coming out of high school, and I think it can fit into our education curriculum and into our education standards in a much different format," Zay said.
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