Civics tests don’t improve voter turnout, according to study
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A civics test policy mandated in 18 states that focuses on testing of political knowledge did not improve youth voter turnout as intended, according to Penn State College of Education researchers.
As an alternative, they recommend a thorough integration of practical information on the voter registration process within social studies curricula.
“Providing students opportunities to really engage with what leadership means, having discussions and debates with leaders and politicians, mock elections… those are all more practical ways to bring this idea of civic participation and civic knowledge to life,” said Maithreyi Gopalan, assistant professor of education and public policy.
“It is important for policymakers to understand that traditional civic education that emphasizes increasing students’ political knowledge through rote memorization and standardized tests does not seem very promising in terms of improving consequential civic engagement outcomes amongst youth, especially voter turnout,” said Jilli Jung, a doctoral student in educational policy. “Mandating that schools administer civic tests that focus on political knowledge testing/fact-based assessments might be a wasted policy opportunity when it comes to improving civic engagement among youth.”
The study — published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis — was conducted by Jung and Gopalan. Between 2016 and 2022, 18 states implemented a version of the Civics Education Initiative(CEI), which requires high school students to take or pass a standardized civics test as a condition for graduation.