Arkansas recently joined several other states in requiring graduating high schoolers to pass citizenship tests.
New laws require all high-schoolers in Arkansas to pass the same test as immigrants seeking citizenship.
At least fifteen other states require high school students to pass the civics section of the naturalization exam for immigrants.
Students must pass a 100 question exam with a minimum of 60 correct multiple-choice responses. The citizenship test is a diploma requirement that has been a subject of debate since it became law in Arizona and North Dakota in 2015.
Advocates of the citizenship test seek more engaged and patriotic students.
They believe that the citizenship test will empower students to have more empathy toward immigrants.
Critics see the test as redundant at best and, at worst, a way to unnecessarily hinder students from high school graduation.
Abby Chorley, senior English major, supports the citizenship test as one way for the United States to foster an environment for citizens to become aware and involved at a young age.
“People should be aware of the immigration process. People should be actively involved in their country and do what it takes to be a citizen. I have one parent who is an American citizen and one who is not. If you’re an American, you should know what that means,” Chorley said.
After further review of the specific requirements of the civics section of the citizenship test, however, Chorley said that it is not as difficult as people make it out to be.
“I don’t know that there is necessarily harm in offering the test as long as everyone is taught well. It’s pretty attainable if you have four years and as many opportunities as needed to pass. The test isn’t the MCAT being required of fourteen-year-olds,” Chorley said.
Connie Matchell, education professor at John Brown University, believes that the test requirement is not wise.
“Students could take the test, but why make it high stakes as a graduation requirement? Taking the test would give them a feel for what immigrants have to know. But, why put that extra piece on it?” Matchell asked. “To understand and empathize, you don’t have to have a test that is high-stakes. And, this would be considered high-stakes. In what other content area do we do that?”
The test is to be implemented as a graduation requirement beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, according to House Bill 1539.
Students will be exempted from the citizenship test if they meet any of the following requirements: 1) students that have an individualized education program, 2) students that attend school in the Corrections School System or 3) students that are over the age of 18.