NIU restricts test mandate

By Greg Rivara

Education majors are now the only NIU students that must pass the Constitution test in order to graduate.

At the last University Council meeting of the ‘80s, the body decided not to interfere with the Undergraduate Coordinating Council’s recommendation to drop the requirement on Dec. 13.

“It’s a test to see how well I can regurgitate facts on the testing date,” said UC student representative Steve Cohen. Education majors are still required to take the test in order to be certified by the state to teach.

However, the move did not go unnoticed. Associate Political Science Professor Gary Glenn, who has been described as the lone wolf in the fight to retain the requirement and has helped make the exam, said the test is an integral part of today’s education.

“At this stage, when the seeds of democracy are bearing fruit in eastern Europe, it looks like my university is dropping its last formal attempt to create a politically educated citizenry,” Glenn said.

The 50-question test includes questions about the Illinois and U.S. constitutions and the American flag. Seventy percent of students taking the test passed on the first attempt without course preparation.

Ten percent passed the test after taking a course in American government, such as Political Science 100, and 20 percent failed after taking a preparatory course.

Knowing that confusion remains about the testing material, UC members apparently agreed knowledge of the concept and not the specifics is the premise of education.

Some council members feel the test requirement should be removed only if it is replaced by a required course in political science.

“To vote down this requirement at this time is the wrong signal to send,” said Education Professor David Ripley.

NIU Provost Kendall Baker said a committee updating social science requirements will investigate the possibility of a course replacement for the test.

Many students echoed Cohen’s dislike of the exam and said the test questions were vague and not useful—questions such as: “The Supreme Court’s decision in McCulloch v. Maryland is justifiably regarded as one of the most important in American history because (it)…”

The answer is “… accepted a broad interpretation of the enumerated and implied powers exercised by Congress.”

Or the question, “If the Declaration of Independence is essentially a catalogue of abuses by the British government in colonial times, the assurance we have that the government today will not repeat those abuses is furnished by…”

The answer is “The Bill of Rights.”

The UC made the decision in the apparent face that although many students felt the test was useless, their knowledge of the material was limited or vague.

Andy Shanahan, a 21-year-old marketing major who has not taken the test, stated his knowledge of the Bill of Rights, “There’s 10 of them, isn’t there? For the Constitution or something… Isn’t it like the 10 amendments?… Like free speech and voting?”

Steve Haywood, a 21-year-old accounting major who “barely passed the test,” said “a filibuster is when the Senate tries to override the president’s veto.”

Actually, the test defined a filibuster as “the practice of speaking to consume time and thereby prevent a vote from being taken.”

“The test was something I had to do and not worry about whether I learned anything. Students don’t get anything out of it,” Haywood said.

And through students’ confusion of the exam and the UC’s reluctance to interfere with the recommendation, University Counsel George Shur told the council that the Illinois School Code, not state law, requires the test’s passage. The code applies only to elementary and secondary schools, he said.

Five state universities retain the requirement: Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Northeastern Illinois, Southern Illinois at Edwardsville and Sangamon State.