• Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

USA Update: US citizenship test changes are coming, raising concerns for those with low English skills


Jul 12, 2023
USA Update: US citizenship test changes are coming, raising concerns for those with low English skillsBig changes to the US citizenship test spark concerns for those with limited English skills. What you need to know about the updates.

US citizenship test
changes are coming, raising concerns for those with low English skills



The US citizenship test is
being updated, and some immigrants and advocates worry the changes will hurt
test-takers with lower levels of English proficiency. The naturalization test
is one of the final steps toward citizenship  a months-long process that requires legal
permanent residency for years before applying. Many are still shaken after
former Republican President Donald Trump’s administration changed the test in
2020, making it

longer and more difficult to pass. Within months, Democratic
President Joe Biden took office and signed an executive order aimed at
eliminating barriers to citizenship. In that spirit, the citizenship test was
changed back to its previous version, which was last updated in 2008.
December, US authorities said the test was due for an update after 15 years.
The new version is expected late next year. US Citizenship and
Immigration Services proposes that the new test adds a speaking section to
assess English skills. An officer would show photos of ordinary scenarios –
like daily activities, weather or food – and ask the applicant to verbally
describe the photos. In the current test, an officer evaluates speaking
ability during the naturalization interview by asking personal questions the
applicant has already answered in the naturalization paperwork. “For me,
I think it would be harder to look at pictures and explain them,” said Heaven
Mehreta, who immigrated from Ethiopia 10 years ago, passed the naturalization
test in May and became a US citizen in Minnesota in June. Mehreta, 32,
said she learned English as an adult after moving to the US and found
pronunciation to be very difficult. She worries that adding a new speaking
section based on photos, rather than personal questions, will make the test
harder for others like her.Shai Avny, who immigrated from Israel five
years ago and became a US citizen last year, said the new speaking section
could also increase the stress applicants already feel during the test. Another
proposed change would make the civics section on US history and government
multiple-choice instead of the current oral short-answer format.Bill Bliss, a
citizenship textbook author in Massachusetts, gave an example in a blog post of
how the test would become more difficult because it would require a larger base
of knowledge. A current civics question has an officer asking the applicant to
name a war fought by the US in the 1900s. The applicant only needs to say one
out of five acceptable answers – World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam
War or Gulf War – to get the question right. The applicant must know all
five of the wars fought by the US in the 1900s in order to select the one
correct answer, Bliss said, and that requires a “significantly higher level of
language proficiency and test-taking skill.” Currently, the applicant must answer
six out of 10 civics questions correctly to pass. Those 10 questions are
selected from a bank of 100 civics questions. The applicant is not told which
questions will be selected but can see and study the 100 questions before
taking the test. Lynne Weintraub, a citizenship coordinator at Jones
Library’s English as a Second Language Center in Massachusetts, said the
proposed format for the civics section could make the citizenship test harder
for people who struggle with English literacy. That includes refugees, elderly
immigrants and people with disabilities that interfere with their test
performance. “We have a lot of students that are refugees, and they’re
coming from war-torn countries where maybe they didn’t have a chance to
complete school or even go to school,” said Mechelle Perrott, a citizenship
coordinator at San Diego Community College District’s College of Continuing
Education in California. “It’s more difficult learning to read and write
if you don’t know how to do that in your first language. That’s my main concern
about the multiple-choice test; it’s a lot of reading,” Perrott said.

US Citizenship and
Immigration Services said in a December announcement that the proposed changes
“reflect current best practices in test design” and would help standardize the
citizenship test.




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