SALEM, Ore. -- A bill facing the Oregon State Legislature would require students to pass the U.S. naturalization test to earn their high school diploma.
Senate Bill 1038 would require K-12 students to get at least a 60 percent on the 100 question civics portion of the naturalization test given to immigrants by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The bill had a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Education at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Former state Senator Bruce Starr said this requirement would prepare Oregon's youth for intelligent civic engagement.
"As a state, we must do better," he said.
Starr said students and educators are able to access the test, as well as lesson plans and tools to study, online at no cost. Students are not required to wait until high school to take the test under the bill, meaning a student could take the test in middle school, for example, and still meet the requirement.
There is no limit to the number of times the students could take the test — they could take it more than once if they do not pass it the first time.
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However, Starr doesn't anticipate that being a problem, saying more than 90 percent of immigrants pass the test on the first attempt. He said the state shouldn't expect less from its students.
Senator Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, had many hesitations with the bill, particularly the fact that as a requirement, it places more pressure on students who, she said, are already under so much pressure.
Additionally, she raised concerns about how the test would be administered for English Language Learners and students with disabilities. She said denying a student their diploma could force them into a life of poverty and could further lower the state's graduation rate.
Starr responded by saying the test is available in multiple languages and there could be amendments made to allow accommodations or exceptions for students with disabilities.
SB 1038 is similar to another bill facing the legislature.
House Bill 2691 would require school districts or public charter schools to only award a high school diploma to a student who has a demonstrated knowledge of civics. This could include completing a course in civics, a passing grade on a civics test or a passing grade on a civics test developed by the Department of Education and the Secretary of State.
HB 2691 had a hearing in February but has not had a second hearing or work session since.
Senator Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, a chief sponsor of SB 1038, said he had to meet similar requirements to the test when he was in school, and he and his peers got through it just fine. He said the goal won't be accomplished, however, unless it is a requirement.
Others who gave testimony for the bill advised the committee, if they pass the bill, to make the effective date at least a year in the future to give current high school students time to prepare. Other concerns spoke to the implementation of the bill, especially when the districts do not have control over the federal curricula of the test.
A work session is scheduled for the bill on Thursday at 3 p.m. in Hearing Room C.
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