High Stakes, More Meaning: An Overview of the Process of Redesigning the U.S. Citizenship Test
In October 2008, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) implemented changes to the content and delivery of its U.S. citizenship test. This report examines the motivations behind these revisions, provides an overview of the test redesign process, reviews limited data on applicant test performance during pilot testing, and provides policy recommendations for moving forward. The report also examines whether the redesigned test meets the government’s goal of providing (1) a more meaningful opportunity for applicants to demonstrate knowledge about U.S. history and civics; and (2) a test that is more standardized in its administration.
The report outlines three key challenges during the redesign process: balancing standardization with “due consideration” to an applicant’s background and circumstances; reconciling the legal requirements for basic English skills with the need for applicants to demonstrate knowledge of complex U.S. civics concepts; and achieving meaningful change without affecting the difficulty of the test. While the new test did demonstrate an increased emphasis on civics and history topics, and does incorporate weighing techniques that standardize the overall cognitive and language difficulty of the civics portion; this report cautions against drawing premature conclusions on the degree to which it addresses key challenges and meets the government’s goals. Instead, authors recommend that USCIS’ redesign team collect and disseminate detailed statistical information on the passage rate under the new test in comparison to the old test; and continue to work with stakeholders, academics, and other experts in monitoring the standardized administration of the test.