Are You Smarter than an Arizona High School Student?

To determine students’ level of basic civic knowledge, The Goldwater Institute surveyed Arizona high school students with questions drawn from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) item bank, which consists of 100 questions given to candidates for United States citizenship. You can download a copy of the citizenship bank of questions here. The longstanding practice has been for candidates to take a test on 10 of the 100 items. Those applying for citizenship would have to study all 100 questions since they did not know what 10 questions would be asked. A minimum of six correct answers—a failing percentage—is required to pass. The service recently reported a first-try passing rate of 92.4 percent.

The Goldwater Institute survey, conducted by a private survey firm, gave each of the students in the survey 10 items from the USCIS item bank. The Goldwater Institute grouped results according to the type of school students attend—public, charter, or private. . . . All three groups of Arizona high school students scored alarmingly low on the test. Only 3.5 percent of Arizona high school students attending public schools passed the 10-question set of questions. The passing rate for charter school students was about twice as high as for public school students. Private school students passed at a rate almost four times higher than public school students. The surveyor interviewed 1,134 high school students attending public schools. The total number of students surveyed was 1,350. Not a single student surveyed got more than seven of the 10 questions correct. Under Arizona’s 8th grade academic standards requirement, students should be exposed to all of the material needed to pass the citizenship test.

None of this is surprising. A study conducted by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum “found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just one in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms. . . . The survey found more people could name the three ‘American Idol’ judges than identify three First Amendment rights. They were also more likely to remember popular advertising slogans.”

Here are the 10 questions. Although you won’t (hopefully) need the answers, I’ve supplied them below just in case:

1. What is the supreme law of the land? (46.5% did not know)

2. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution? (48% did not know)

3. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress? (77% did not know)

4. How many Justices are on the Supreme Court? (42.2% did not know/9.4 got it right)

5. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? (50.4% did not know)

6. What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States? (29.1% did not know, in addition 12.1% got it wrong)

7. What are the two major political parties in the United States? (38.5% did not know/49.6% got it right)

8. We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years? (only 14.5% got it right)

9. Who was the first President? (26.5% got it right)

10. Who is in charge of the executive branch? (26.5% got it right)

 Answers

  1. The Constitution.
  2. The Bill of Rights.
  3. The Senate and the House.
  4. Nine
  5. Thomas Jefferson
  6. Atlantic
  7. Democratic and Republican
  8. Six
  9. Washington
  10. The President