What do graduates know?

KIMT NEWS 3 — Hundreds of thousands of immigrants take a test to become a U.S. citizen each year. For the people who take it, it very well may be the most important test they will take in their entire life.

Students going to school in our area have other tests that they worry about. It is graduation season, but what are these soon to be graduates learning in school?

Instead of their typical high school exam we tested them with questions that many are required to know to become a citizen.

We made them anxious.

“I was still nervous that I was going to fail it,” said Makenna Friehl, a senior at Albert Lea High School.

“I wasn’t expecting that many wrong, I guess I just kind of got the answers mixed up, because I knew a lot of it,” said Jensen Goodell, a senior at Albert Lea High School.

These students take exams all of the time to test their knowledge, but the ones they are taking are different than the ones students were taking even five years ago.

As a high school counselor it is important to keep up to date with the ever changing graduation standards.

Joseph Ott has worked as a counselor at Austin High School for 23 years. He said a lot has changed since he started in the late 1980s.

“At that time we didn’t have any state testing set up by the state itself. We did what was called a California Achievement Test here, we did it on our own as a school,” Ott said.

He said even the time it takes to complete those required classes needed to graduate is different.

“We had three years of social studies where now we require four years of social studies. I do know that in the future a number of the colleges are looking at four years of math. I would assume in the next three, four years that you would probably see sciences and math areas moving into the four years required for each subject,” Ott said.

Even though math and science are still under the three year requirement, the type of math these students are taking is constantly evolving.

“Right now at least at the junior high level students are already hitting algebra pretty heavy and geometry. We have students coming over to our school at the ninth grade that some of them are going into advanced algebra, algebra two, so yes, it’s changed quite a bit over the years,” Ott said.

As complex as these math courses may sound, they are not changing just for fun.

“We’re moving into a technology world at this point in time and sciences and maths become extremely important, much more important than they were in the past,” Ott said.

With the growing emphasis being put on science in today’s world, it may come as a surprise that it is not yet on a standardized test.

“Historically and for quite some time we’ve had graduation assessments in both reading, writing and math and those have been around for quite a while now. The only thing that’s changed is when those assessments are given,” said John Alberts, Director of Educational Services for Austin Public Schools.

These subjects used to be reflected on the Basic Skills Test (BST) taken in 8th and 10th grade, but leaders questioned if that was a good time to test.

“There was some concern as to why were those assessments taken so early if they were to truly represent basic levels of knowledge of a high school graduate,” Alberts said.

So even the relatively new world of standardized testing has evolved. The BST was replaced by the GRAD, or Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma.

Instead of 8th and 10th grade, students now take these tests in grades nine, ten and eleven, but even still, state education leaders are unsure if this is the proper solution.

“A couple of years ago there was a committee formed at the state level to examine grad and what does that look like and is that an appropriate way of assessing students who are putting in that high stakes accountability measure? A number of states do things differently and in fact, a number of countries do things differently,” Alberts said.

Unlike the time when Ott started at Austin High School, the state sets guidelines on what classes students need to take to graduate, although the districts decide how long they must take the course.

“At the state level it’s been required that students take econ and government at the 12th grade level and that continues with the new standards, but there’s a blending of some required courses along with what us essentially can be local decisions,” Alberts said.

Those are courses that would be helpful for those aiming to become a U.S. citizen and are required to take a test to do so. Are those classes preparing our future leaders for the same things the United States is requiring from its future citizens?

We quizzed some graduating seniors to find out.

“The branches of the government, you should know that. I mean you should know some history like the colonies and stuff. They asked what were the 13 colonies or what were two of the 13 colonies?” Friehl said.

Which is why questions like, “When is the last day you can send in federal income tax forms?” and, “What is one right or freedom from the first amendment?” are on the test, but not every question seems fit.

“I was asked what the longest river was and I don’t know why I would need to know that, I don’t think there’s a point of knowing that,” Friehl said.

But it is okay if you do not know that question. It takes 60 percent to pass and become a U.S. citizen. Both of these students made the grade.

“I thought it was going to be higher, like 75 percent, I wasn’t expecting 60,” Goodell said.

With that in mind, Goodell and Friehl said it would be good end of course assessment.

“It would be fun to have Haney have the government class take it and see what we’re actually learning and stuff,” Goodell said.

Ott said students like Friehl and Goodell need to be more prepared than students did 20 or 30 years ago. He said there are so many new jobs that did not exist back then and the same can be said for students five to ten years down the road, increasing their regular class load.

“Many students are taking foreign language on top of that and they’re doing a couple musics, they’re in choir or band, something like that. They’re looking at having to do like our health required or a phy ed credit during the summer school because there’s just no room during the seven period day that we have,” Ott said.

His worry is that it will get to the point where it is too much for these students to handle.

“There’s a real push in our society, I think, because of the technology world, that students need to increasingly look at more rigor and rigor and rigor,” Ott said.

Alberts said the graduation standards changed to the current format about the same time the BST was eliminated for the GRAD assessment.

But like Ott says, those standards could change yet again in the next few years to include more math and science.

Many places, including Albert Lea, offer citizenship classes through community education. They teach things that would be seen on a citizenship test like civics based questions.

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