Saturday, February 17, 2018
Education

State seeks to boost student knowledge about government

A third of Americans can't name any of the three branches of government. Fewer than half understand what separation of powers is, and twice as many can name a judge on American Idol than the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Survey after survey has shown that Americans lack basic knowledge about how their government works. That's something Florida lawmakers hope to change.

The state is introducing a new end-of-course exam in civics for middle school students, the first high-stakes test required for middle school promotion. Students now have to take a civics class in middle school. By the 2014-15 school year, they'll have to pass the end-of-course exam to attend high school.

High-stakes tests aren't new to Florida. Third-graders must pass the reading Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to move to the fourth grade, while high school students must pass the FCAT to graduate. The civics exam affects this year's incoming sixth-graders.

Leslie Christenson, a Hillsborough County mother of a rising sixth-grader, said she thinks the state should teach civics. But she thinks a high-stakes exam is overkill.

"I think it's good for them to know it, but not to be held back because of it," she said.

State education officials plan to field test the new civics exam this year. In the 2013-14 school year, 30 percent of a student's civics grade will depend on the test score.

The state also has developed other end-of-course exams, which affect high school graduation. This year's incoming ninth-graders will have to pass tests in algebra, biology and geometry to graduate. Students also will take an end-of-course exam in U.S. history, but it won't affect graduation.

The new civics exam represents a big change for Florida, which only recently began to require students to take a separate civics class. For years, the subject often was included in a government class, usually taken at the end of high school.

Of Florida school districts surveyed between 2003 and 2005, fewer than 10 percent offered a stand-alone civics course, according to the Florida Law Related Education Association.

Lawmakers changed that in 2010, requiring students to take the end-of-course exam and one semester of civics in middle school. It passed without any opposition in either the state House or Senate.

Christenson said she fears that students won't be interested in civics and it might make it tough for them to pass the end-of-course exam.

"They're not going to want to study it," she said.

Some teachers in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties already are using a virtual program, iCivics, to try to engage students.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor created the iCivics program after leaving the bench to address the lack of government knowledge among Americans. It offers virtual civics lessons and interactive gaming modules, alongside lectures and homework assignments.

Eric Leopold, a civics teacher at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo, said that the favorite games of his students are "Counties Work," "Do I Have a Right," and "Immigration Nation." He credits the games with improving students' knowledge of political issues.

Angela Zollo, social studies department chair at Palm Harbor Middle School, said that the iCivics programs "reinforce the civics standards that we are required to teach."

"It is a great visual and hands-on activity for students," she said.

Nicholas Fox, 13, used iCivics when he was a student in Leopold's class. He said he enjoyed the games and "learning about the law."

"Coming into it from sixth grade, I did know about the very basics — like that there are three branches of government — but I didn't know a lot," he said. "After I took the class, I learned."

Correspondent Alexander Heffner contributed to this report. Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at [email protected], (727)-893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

Comments
Hillsborough rethinks its strategy for struggling schools

Hillsborough rethinks its strategy for struggling schools

TAMPA — "Elevate," a Hillsborough County School District initiative that was to focus on seven troubled schools and use them as models for dozens more, is becoming but a memory as the district seeks instead to support all schools equally."We’re more ...
Published: 02/17/18
Plant High students commemorate Parkland victims with sidewalk messages

Plant High students commemorate Parkland victims with sidewalk messages

TAMPA — Students at Plant High School honored the victims of the Parkland school shooting with a series of sidewalk chalk messages.The chalk art carried a series of messages such as "How many times?" and "Do something. Protect us." according to a Fac...
Published: 02/16/18
At public schools in Tampa Bay, a day to mourn, assess and reinforce

At public schools in Tampa Bay, a day to mourn, assess and reinforce

While fielding calls from anxious parents after the Broward County high school shooting that claimed 17 lives, school officials in the Tampa Bay area took a close look Thursday at what they are doing to keep students safe.There are gates and locks an...
Published: 02/15/18
Joe Henderson: April Griffin won’t run again for school board. She says she means it this time.

Joe Henderson: April Griffin won’t run again for school board. She says she means it this time.

Assuming April Griffin follows through on her decision not to seek re-election to the Hillsborough County School Board, well, meetings just won’t be the same. Chances are they’ll just be filled with boring reports, proclamations and routine business....
Published: 02/15/18
‘I don’t get paid for teaching,’ says Pinellas teacher accused of inappropriate acts. Now he’s gone

‘I don’t get paid for teaching,’ says Pinellas teacher accused of inappropriate acts. Now he’s gone

A St. Petersburg High teacher has retired in the middle of the school year after students said he called them "baby," "babe," "missy," "honey," "sweetie," "little girl" and ended one girl’s name with "-licious."The Pinellas County school district fou...
Published: 02/15/18
Interim principal says teamwork will lift long-struggling Moton Elementary

Interim principal says teamwork will lift long-struggling Moton Elementary

BROOKSVILLE — Less than a month after taking over as interim principal at long-struggling Moton Elementary School, Brent Gaustad says teamwork by educators across the district has things looking up.Behavior has improved, he said, and innovative proce...
Published: 02/15/18
17 dead, 15 wounded, former student in custody after Broward school shooting

17 dead, 15 wounded, former student in custody after Broward school shooting

PARKLAND — An American nightmare unfolded Wednesday afternoon at a South Florida high school after police say an expelled teenager returned to campus and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing 17 and wounding 15 more in the worst school shooting ...
Published: 02/14/18
Teachers take tests too. And when they cheat, Hillsborough has a knack for catching them

Teachers take tests too. And when they cheat, Hillsborough has a knack for catching them

TAMPA — Claudette Wilson and Annella Fender are sisters from Jamaica who did everything together.They both taught at Dowdell Middle School — one English, the other reading. They played tennis on Saturdays. After their match, they would work on their ...
Published: 02/14/18
No raise this year for USF president Genshaft; pay and benefits to remain at $925,000

No raise this year for USF president Genshaft; pay and benefits to remain at $925,000

TAMPA — The University of South Florida System’s long-serving leader will again stand to make about $925,000 in pay and deferred compensation under her proposed contract renewal.If approved, President Judy Genshaft’s contract will provide for about $...
Published: 02/14/18

Pasco School Board: Principals should alert families of potentially controversial books

Recently adopted law that gives parents and other residents more opportunities to review and challenge school instructional materials has sparked the Pasco County School Board to take a closer look at how it deals with such situations.The board last ...
Published: 02/14/18