Last month OCPA commissioned a national research firm, Strategic Vision, to determine Oklahoma public high-school students' level of basic civic knowledge. The firm's surveys have been used by Time, Newsweek, and USA Today, and National Journal's "Hotline" has cited them as some of the most accurate in the country. The margin of error for this particular survey is plus/minus three percent.
Ten questions, chosen at random, were drawn from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) item bank, which consists of 100 questions given to candidates for United States citizenship. The longstanding practice has been for candidates for citizenship to take a test on 10 of these items. A minimum of six correct answers is required to pass. Recently, the USCIS had 6,000 citizenship applicants pilot a newer version of this test. The agency reported a 92.4 percent passing rate among citizenship applicants on the first try.
Of course, immigrants have had an opportunity to study for the test-a distinct advantage-so we might not necessarily expect a 92 percent passing rate from Oklahoma's public high-school students.
On the other hand, most high-school students have the advantage of having lived in the United States their entire lives. Moreover, they have benefited from tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars being spent for their educations. Many immigrants seeking citizenship, meanwhile, often arrive penniless and must educate themselves on America's history and government.
After seeing the questions for yourself, you the reader can judge whether a 92 percent passing rate is a reasonable expectation for Oklahoma's high-school students. Unfortunately, Oklahoma high-school students scored alarmingly low on the test, passing at a rate of only 2.8 percent. That is not a misprint.
Think this is isolated to Oklahoma?
Sadly, that result does not come as complete surprise. When the same survey was done recently in Arizona, only 3.5 percent of Arizona's high-school students passed the test.