Newberry civics proficiency bill signed into law

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STATE HOUSE – Civics proficiency will be a requirement for all Rhode Island public high school graduates under a new law that was sponsored by Rep. Brian Newberry, along with Sen. Hanna Gallo.

The legislation (2021-S 0076Aaa2021-H 5028Aaa) was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law, and is aimed at ensuring that all students understand the principles of democracy, how their government works, and the rights and duties of actively engaged citizenship.

“A thorough grounding in civics should be a cornerstone of every education consisting of two parts,” said Newberry, a Republican who represents District 48 in North Smithfield and Burrillville. “First, it should contain a deep understanding of the foundation of our nation’s government systems and structures, with neither their imperfections whitewashed nor their subtlety, genius and keen reflections of the limitations and foibles of human nature downplayed or diminished. Second, it should contain practical instruction in how government at all levels works, the interplay between those levels, the limitations on power and constructive ways in which to effect change in public policy.”

The new law requires that all high school students attending public school demonstrate proficiency in civics, commencing with the graduating class of 2023. The law does not necessarily require that students take a separate civics course or civics exam, instead allowing individual school districts to determine how their students can demonstrate proficiency. Many aspects of civics are already integrated into other subjects’ curricula.

The legislation also requires that students complete at least one student-led civics project in middle or high school. The project could be individual, group or class-wide, and would be designed to promote the student’s ability to reason, make logical arguments and support claims using valid evidence; and demonstrate an understanding of the connections between federal, state and local policies, including issues that may impact the student’s community.

“Solid civics education in public schools is absolutely critical to having an informed public,” said Gallo, a Democrat from District 27 in Cranston and West Warwick, who is vice chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, serves on the Joint Commission on Civics Education, and was the sponsor of the 2005 law that led to the development of a statewide civics curriculum and standards for grades K through 12. “Students are the next generation of voters. They need and deserve to graduate with a healthy knowledge of how they can create the changes they want to see in their community, their state and their country.”

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