US citizenship may be determined at random

March 12, 2012

The fate of nearly half a million immigrants hoping for U.S. citizenship may have been determined randomly, at least in part, according to a new study by a Michigan State University researcher who found the high-stakes civics test isn't a reliable measure of civics knowledge.

To be awarded , immigrants must correctly answer six of 10 questions on the verbally administered civics portion of the U.S. Naturalization , said Paula Winke, assistant professor of second language studies.

Questions are randomly selected by an immigration officer from a pool of 100. But contrary to ethical high-stakes testing standards, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has never released data demonstrating the 100 questions are reliable or valid, she said. More problematic, according to Winke, is that some test forms may be more difficult than others.

"If your citizenship status hangs upon this one test as it does for many, the award of citizenship or noncitizenship may be arbitrarily made, based on the form that's pulled out of the drawer from the immigration officer," Winke said.

Winke's study, which is published in the winter edition of the journal Language Assessment Quarterly, is the first to measure the reliability of the test. She found that despite immigration services spending six years and $6.5 million to make the test more standardized and fair, it's not.

USCIS rolled out a new test in 2008, and that's the last time it was updated. That same year, immigration services received $375 million in fees from naturalization applicants and administered 1.65 million interviews, approving 1.05 million people for citizenship, Winke said.

Applicants spend $675 each to take the test and sometimes wait years to meet with an immigration officer. That's why it's baffling that immigration services doesn't keep or publish data on the reliability of the test, Winke said.

To be reliable, the test should measure what Americans know and what noncitizens who haven't studied for the test don't know, Winke said. But in her research, Winke found 77 of the 100 possible questions were equally difficult for both groups.

Winke also found 13 questions were easier for noncitizens to answer. One such question: "Name one war fought by the United States in the 1900s."

USCIS should collect data to determine which questions are hard and which are easy for Americans and noncitizens alike, Winke said, to ensure that only those that reliably assess Americans' core civics knowledge are on the test.

For most high-stakes tests – such as SAT or ACT – testing companies collect and publish test data demonstrating the test is reliable. But immigration services doesn't, Winke said.

"There's a lot about accountability in testing and education these days. I think the same applies to our government," Winke said. "As educators, we have to prove that every test under No Child Left Behind is reliable and valid, so why isn't the government doing this for the civics test?"

Explore further: Unauthorized population would soar if birthright citizenship repealed

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1 / 5 (6) Mar 12, 2012
USA is a bullshit country. I do not recommend it to nobody. Be happy where you are.
1 / 5 (6) Mar 12, 2012
But honestly, let's be fare to USCIS. I'll bet their org charts and mission statement are awesome, and everyone in the organization has been to diversity training.

Go bureaucracy!
1 / 5 (6) Mar 12, 2012
Nobody who knows the facts of American history or the US can pass that test without lying. It's basically the first step in brainwashing to weed out thinking people.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2012
Infinite_energy has clearly had the benefit of a far superior educational system to that of the USA, this has endowed him with the ability to construct such wonderful sentences as "I do not recommend it to nobody."
Evidently the notion of the double negative is unknown in his incredible country. Your endorsement is noted!
1 / 5 (5) Mar 14, 2012 has a tendency to produce provocative headlines that do not match the content of the articles. Showing that the citizenship test is flawed is a far cry from showing that US citizenship is determined at random. One reason (of many) is that this test is only one small hurdle (of many) in the path to US citizenship. It's equivalent to saying that the NBA championship is determined at random because officials tend to make small errors in judgment here and there.

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