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House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick

NASHVILLE -- The state House voted 85-8 on Monday to require Tennessee students pass the U.S. citizenship test given to immigrants before they receive a high school diploma.

But the bill, sponsored by Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, first came under fire for adding yet another mandatory test for students.

McCormick said his legislation is part of a "nation-wide effort to require high school students to pass" a basic civics exam. "The test's questionaire is not terribly difficult," he added, noting it includes such questions as what the U.S. Constitution do, what "are the two parts of Congress."

The exam is passed by 92 percent of immigrants seeking to become U.S. citizens but in some states have failure rates of 98 percent, McCormick said. The bill requires students score at least 70 and can take the exam as many times as necessary to pass.

Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, said it "still disturbs me we're mandating another test."

Another lawmaker, Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, asked McCormick whether he had sought the advice of school districts in Chattanooga and Nashville as well as others. McCormick said he had spoken with the State Board of Education but not every school district. 

After Jones continued to raise questions, McCormick said, "I'm sure they [local districts] will be shocked they have to teach their students who the president and the vice president of the United States are."

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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