Press Releases | Civic Literacy

ACTA Challenges Florida Department of Education on the Merits of New “Civic Literacy” Test

May 26, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC—On Tuesday, May 26, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) joined in a petition to protect the important Florida Statute that requires all college students to demonstrate a firm understanding of our nation’s founding principles, history, and political institutions. The petition seeks administrative determination that the Florida Department of Education’s proposed rule revision, which would weaken that statute, is invalid: by approving Rule 6A-10.02413, the Department went beyond the powers, functions, and duties delegated by the state legislature. ACTA joins in this effort with Michael and Logan McLeod, the parents of two sons who attend a public Florida high school; Robert Holladay, an adjunct history professor at Tallahassee Community College (TCC); Frank Baglione, a long-time professor of history at TCC; and the Tallahassee Historical Society, Florida’s second oldest historical organization.

The state approved Florida Statute 1007.25 in 2017 to address a well-documented crisis of civic understanding, mandating that students “demonstrate competency in civic literacy” in order to graduate from a state college or university. On May 20, however, the Florida Department of Education undercut that legislation by approving Rule 6A-10.02413 which will allow community college students to demonstrate competency by attaining a mere 60% on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization Test—Civics with supplemental questions.

The petitioners claim that the proposed rule is an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority for the following reasons:

  • The proposed rule allows a student to demonstrate civic literacy by passing a newly created civics test that was not in existence at the time of the passage of Florida Statute 1007.25.
  • The proposed rule’s addition of the newly created test as a measure of civic literacy is contrary to the legislative directive that a student’s civic literacy be determined by an assessment, not a memorization test.
  • The proposed rule is being applied retroactively contrary to law.
  • The State Board of Education failed to follow appropriate rulemaking in proposing the rule by delegating the responsibility to the Commissioner of Education.

In addition to the overreach of authority outlined above, the proposed rule undermines the core academic values that informed the 2017 statute. The new test, which was created by the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida at the behest of the Florida Board of Governors, is largely derived from the U.S. Citizenship Test. The Frey Institute replaced 56 of the original 100 questions and made them all multiple choice questions. According to the rule, in order to pass the test, students would only need to score a 60, the equivalent of a “D”, when 44 of the answers to the test are available online, at the click of a mouse.

Thomas P. Crapps of the Meenan law firm in Tallahassee—who filed the petition—said that what makes the use of the Immigration Services Naturalization Test so pernicious is that not only can college and university students use it to complete an entire postsecondary requirement, but students in high school can, too.

“This makes it easier to graduate from college than from high school,” Mr. Crapps said. “To graduate from high school, you still must take world history, American history, and American government, along with this test. But once you take the test, you don’t have to take any college civics coursework. It infantilizes students at the very educational level where you should be challenging them.”

This sentiment is echoed by Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. “Florida’s legislature rightly understood that by studying history, the achievements and failures of our past, all Americans will be better equipped for the duties of informed and engaged citizenship,” said Poliakoff. “Higher education can play an important role in fostering civic understanding and forging the next generation of public leaders. We are disappointed to see the Florida Department of Education so determined to undermine lawmakers’ bold efforts in 2017, which could make Florida the national leader in civics education.”

Read the full petition here » 

MEDIA CONTACT: Connor Murnane
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