Patterico's Pontifications


Trump Administration Is Revising U.S. Citizenship Test

Filed under: General — Dana @ 8:52 am

[guest post by Dana]


The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released a statement about the upcoming revision. In part:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is revising the current naturalization test with improvements to ensure it continues to serve as an accurate measure of a naturalization applicant’s civics knowledge and that it reflects best practices in adult education assessments. The goal is to create a meaningful, uniform, and efficient test that will assess applicants’ knowledge and understanding of U.S. history, government and values.

The test was introduced in 1986, and had previously been revised in 2008. USCIS acting director Ken Cuccinelli commented about the current revision:

The Trump administration on Friday announced it will revise the U.S. citizenship test to help make a “meaningful, uniform, and efficient test.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said it had formed a naturalization test revision working group in December 2018 with “members from across the agency.”

The agency added that it is “soliciting the input of experts in the field of adult education to ensure that this process is fair and transparent.”

“Granting U. S. citizenship is the highest honor our nation bestows,” USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli said in a statement.

“Updating, maintaining, and improving a test that is current and relevant is our responsibility as an agency in order to help potential new citizens fully understand the meaning of U.S. citizenship and the values that unite all Americans.”

“Isn’t everybody always paranoid that this is used for ulterior purposes?” the immigration hardliner told the outlet on Thursday.

“Of course they’re going to be sorely disappointed when it just looks like another version of a civics exam. I mean that’s pretty much how it’s going to look.”

Perhaps that’s the problem: it’s a civics exam. Consider surveyed rates of failure by Americans on the current exam:

A majority of Americans in every state except Vermont would fail a test based on the questions in the U.S. citizenship test…

People did relatively well on the most basic questions. Seven out of 10 knew that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and that Franklin Roosevelt was president during World War II.

But only 43% knew that Woodrow Wilson was president during World War I (nearly one out of four thought it was Roosevelt), and only 56% knew which countries we fought in World War II.

Fewer than a third could correctly name three of the original states.

More than six out of 10 incorrectly thought the Constitution was written in 1776. (It wasn’t written until 1787.)

Nearly four out of 10 thought Benjamin Franklin invented the light bulb.

Should we really be surprised at the results:

Civic knowledge and public engagement are at an all-time low. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, which was a significant decline from previous years.1

Only nine states and the District of Columbia require one year of U.S. government or civics, while 30 states require a half year and the other 11 states have no civics requirement. While federal education policy has focused on improving academic achievement in reading and math, this has come at the expense of a broader curriculum. Most states have dedicated insufficient class time to understanding the basic functions of government.11

The report notes that the increased time and focus on math and reading has resulted in the elimination of civics (and other important) classes.

Most interestingly, with regard to the U.S. citizenship exam:

The policy solution that has garnered the most momentum to improve civics in recent years is a standard that requires high school students to pass the U.S. citizenship exam before graduation.6 According to our analysis, 17 states have taken this path.7 Yet, critics of a mandatory civics exam argue that the citizenship test does nothing to measure comprehension of the material8 and creates an additional barrier to high school graduation.9 Other states have adopted civics as a requirement for high school graduation, provided teachers with detailed civics curricula, provided community service as a part of a graduation requirement, and increased the availability of Advanced Placement (AP) United States Government and Politics classes.10

Immigrants must pass the citizenship test to become U.S. citizens. The test has 100 civics questions, and immigrants are asked up to 10 of these during an interview. They must answer six correctly to pass.

(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)


24 Responses to “Trump Administration Is Revising U.S. Citizenship Test”

  1. Trying to find the upside here: if you didn’t know who invented the light bulb, Ben Franklin is as good of a guess as any…

    Dana (bb0678)

  2. I’m sure this will be attacked as a “literacy test”, a white-supremacist attempt to keep all those noble brown folk from voting.

    Kevin M (21ca15)

  3. “Two lesser-known inventors, Humphrey Davy and Joseph Swan (who won a patent lawsuit against Edison), both developed working electric lights well before Edison.”

    nk (dbc370)

  4. It’s only a literacy test if someone is required to pass it in order to vote.

    Sammy Finkelman (592d97)

  5. Look on the bright side: our nation’s high schoolers (and adults for that matter) may not know in what decade the Civil War took place, they may not be able to name more than one or two Supreme Court Justices, and they may not be able to tell you how a Constitutional Amendment is enacted, but they do know about the scourge of white privilege, they know that health care is a “fundamental right,” and they know several tips for avoiding herpes during oral sex without diminishing the pleasurable sensation.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  6. Actually, Kevin M, you’re not that far off the mark:

    Because the white nationalists immigration hardliners in the executive branch just can’t help themselves from showing their true colors, Trump administration officials announced major changes to the mandatory test required to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S.

    Dana (bb0678)

  7. I guess I must be a “hard liner” because it does seem reasonable to me that passing a very simple citizenship test of this sort is reasonable, and that voting (like serving on a jury) be reserved for citizens.

    I wonder — would attorneys here want a juror deciding any halfway complex case if they could not demonstrate some basic background familiarity with these kinds of “common sense” issues?

    Pouncer (df6448)

  8. nk, I was just reading about that:

    In 1850, English chemist Joseph Swan tackled the cost-effectiveness problem of previous inventors and by 1860 he had developed a light bulb that used carbonized paper filaments in place of ones made of platinum. Swan received a patent in the United Kingdom in 1878, and in February 1879 he demonstrated a working lamp in a lecture in Newcastle, England, according to the Smithsonian Institution. Like earlier renditions of the light bulb, Swan’s filaments were placed in a vacuum tube to minimize their exposure to oxygen, extending their lifespan. Unfortunately for Swan, the vacuum pumps of his day were not efficient as they are now, and while his prototype worked well for a demonstration, it was impractical in actual use.

    Edison realized that the problem with Swan’s design was the filament. A thin filament with high electrical resistance would make a lamp practical because it would require only a little current to make it glow. He demonstrated his light bulb in December 1879. Swan incorporated the improvement into his light bulbs and founded an electrical lighting company in England. Edison sued for patent infringement, but Swan’s patent was a strong claim, at least in the United Kingdom, and the two inventors eventually joined forces and formed Edison-Swan United, which became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of light bulbs, according to the Museum of Unnatural Mystery.

    Swan wasn’t the only competitor Edison faced. In 1874, Canadian inventors Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans filed a patent for an electric lamp with different-sized carbon rods held between electrodes in a glass cylinder filled with nitrogen. The pair tried, unsuccessfully, to commercialize their lamps but eventually sold their patent to Edison in 1879.

    Dana (bb0678)

  9. It should be mandatory that anyone elected to public office be required to take the test. All 100 of the civics questions!

    Dana (bb0678)

  10. I think a civics test is good for everyone but I worry that a Democratic Administration will include questions about controversial topics (Climate change? The right to abortion?) and take off points for “wrong” answers. I don’t know any way to avoid it and it is worth the risk, but I still worry.

    DRJ (15874d)

  11. yes, that’s possible, of course the contructivist curriculum likely renders that result, as well as unmitigated gall,

    narciso (d1f714)

  12. The small government person in me hates to see civics nationalized this way. It should be taught according to local values, where people still can control what children are taught. We used to do that through locally controlled school systems but those have been circumvented by teachers unions and college education programs. This feels like one more step in that direction, no matter how well-intentioned.

    DRJ (15874d)

  13. The system has been designed to elicit emotion. Over facts,

    Narciso (5d1b28)

  14. That ship has sailed, DRJ. I don’t know if there is any neutral-based content left in anything, especially anything coming from government.

    Dana (bb0678)

  15. > The report notes that the increased time and focus on math and reading has resulted in the elimination of civics (and other important) classes.

    who is writing these things? I graduated from high school twenty-eight years ago and didn’t have a civics class *then*.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  16. They called it “social science” fifty years ago. I think now they call it “APUSH”.

    nk (dbc370)

  17. Or maybe it was “social studies”.

    nk (dbc370)

  18. Anyhow, if they can learn what to say to the Border Patrol to get asylum, they can learn what to say to a naturalization officer to get citizenship.

    nk (dbc370)

  19. Since English and Math comprehension are as poor as ever, what does that say about the increased focus on Math and English?

    NJRob (4d595c)

  20. President Bushs’s “No Child Left Behind” act of 2001 focused on developing skills in reading, writing, and math. There is only so much time in a school day, and something has to go by the wayside when a more confined focus becomes the mission. That pattern has only continued in subsequent decades.

    Dana (bb0678)

  21. Ted Kennedy cooked up that goulash, ignite which Is the primary software for nclb came through Kuwaiti investors, that Neil Bush encountered, in 12 years of experience with the public schools I found it set back student learning

    Narciso (5d1b28)

  22. My wife took this test in 2007. It wasn’t challenging at all.

    Advocaat (33a09d)

  23. “Civic knowledge and public engagement are at an all-time low”

    As to Public engagement: why should it be otherwise?

    Vote to deny benefits to illegals? A single judge invalidates your vote. Then the Gov., doubtless a believer that ‘every vote should be counted,’ does not appeal that decision;

    Vote for the Death penalty? Judges entertain 15th amended habeas writs, and the 9th circuit will issue repeated stays of execution on the night of until told by the Big Court to stop. Now the Gov says he has a moratorium on it. Why even serve on a jury deciding it? Its an utter waste of time.

    Three strikes? You put ’em away, we’ll turn them loose with court decisions or later legislation.

    Involved with your school? The California Supreme Court decides that locally raised money should be pooled and distributed out of Sacto. School unions insulate teachers from any accountability.

    Want to change the UC’s ever increasing tuition and gender studies courses, and reinstate traditional courses? You can’t. Regents are unaccountable except to the Gov.

    Harcourt Fenton Mudd (6b1442)

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