07 December 2005

Citizenship test getting back to basics

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Questions on the nation's citizenship test will be revised to focus on basic civics and won't be the sort that would stir academic debate, the head of the federal citizenship office said Tuesday.

Alfonso Aguilar, chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship, said the agency plans to have a study done by next month on whether the test must be redesigned or merely revised. He said that although nothing is definite yet, "We are inclined to revise the current test, rather than totally redesign the test."

The changes should be completed by January 2007 and in use by January 2008, Aguilar said.

The department wants the test to be less subjective. Permanent residents wanting to be Americans are tested on their ability to read, write and speak English, as well as their knowledge of U.S. history and government. They are asked questions from an approved list, but each testing officer can decide which questions to ask.

As a result, the test varies depending on who is asking the questions and where the test is given.

Instead Aguilar said the test will aim to ask more substantive questions, and anyone who studies for the test should be able to pass it.

"They are going to go to the fundamentals that unite us," he said.

Revision of the test that newcomers take to become Americans was first suggested in the late 1990s by an immigration panel initially led by the late Texas Rep. Barbara Jordan. The Bush administration began working on the changes in 2001, but had to scrap its first effort amid concerns about how the test was developed.

Since then, the director of the test development project has been changed and the agency plans to put out bids soon for a new contractor to help in developing the test.

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