<< The Body Politic

Americans failing Citizenship test again

Monday, April 30th, 2012

A new study by the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University confirms what we already know: Americans perform poorly on the U.S. Citizenship test. The new findings reveal some pretty alarming statistics:

  • One in three native-born citizens fail the civics portion of the naturalization test, in stark contrast to the 97.5% pass rate among immigrants applying for citizenship. (To pass, one must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly.)
  • If the pass rate were 7 out of 10, one half of all native-born citizens would fail.
  • While native-born citizens do well on basic questions related to history and geography, the results reveal a low level of knowledge concerning the principles and features of American government that underlie our civic life.
    • 85% did not know the meaning of the “the rule of law.”
    • 82% could not name “two rights stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
    • 75% were not able to correctly answer “What does the judiciary branch do?”
    • 71% were unable to identify the Constitution as the “supreme law of the land.”
    • 68% did not know how many justices are on the Supreme Court.
    • 63% could not name one of their two US Senators.

As the Center explains, “the survey found that native-born citizens do best with elementary school level questions such as: ‘What is the name of the President of the United States?’, ‘What is the capital of the United States?’, ‘Where is the Statue of Liberty?’, ‘Who was the first President?’, ‘When do we celebrate Independence Day?’, and ‘What are the two major political parties in the United States?’. However, the highest incorrect scores consistently concern the US Constitution, and the governmental, legal and political structure of the American republic and basic facts related to current political life and identification of key political decision-makers.”

These findings are hardly surprising when, according to our 2010 report High Schools, Civics, and Citizenship: What Social Studies Teachers Think and Do, fewer than two thirds of social studies teachers believe it is “absolutely essential” for students to understand the principles of American government, such as federalism and the separation of powers, or to be knowledgeable about key periods of American history, like the American Revolution and the Civil War.

Think you can pass the Citizenship test? Take it here.