The Jury Talks Back


Trump Administration Revising U.S. Citizenship Test

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 8:51 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.


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