Citizens in Only One State Can Pass U.S. Citizenship Exam, Study Finds

Citizens in Only One State Can Pass U.S. Citizenship Exam, Study Finds

Vermont is the only U.S. state in which a majority of residents would pass a U.S. citizenship exam, a study conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation finds.

According to a nationwide survey of forty-one thousand adults, 53 percent of Vermont's residents earned a passing grade on a multiple-choice test of questions adapted from a U.S. citizenship exam, while a majority of residents in every other state and Washington, D.C., failed. In the lowest-performing state, Louisiana, only 27 percent of citizens were able to pass the test, which included questions regarding the Constitution and its amendments, as well as key dates and important historical figures. Among other things, the survey found that a quarter of those surveyed did not know that freedom of speech is a protected right under the First Amendment and that only 27 percent of those under the age of 45 could successfully demonstrate a basic understanding of U.S. history.

The survey was conducted as part of the Woodrow Wilson American History Initiative, which seeks to transform how history is taught and learned in U.S. schools by making it more interesting to different types of learners and highlighting the contemporary relevance of historical events. Driven by the latest cognitive learning research, the initiative plans to produce a digital platform featuring interactive learning tools such as digital games, videos, and graphic novels and will build on its HistoryQuest Fellowship, which provides professional development opportunities for K-12 social studies and civics teachers.

"American history education is not working, as students are asked to memorize dates, events, and leaders, which the poll results show are not retained in adulthood," said Woodrow Wilson Foundation president Arthur Levine. "Based on our research, this is not an issue of whether high school history teachers are adequately prepared or whether kids study American history in school. The answer to both questions is yes. This is an issue of how we teach American history. Now it is too often made boring and robbed of its capacity to make sense of a chaotic present and inchoate future. Instead, knowledge of American history must serve as an anchor in a time when change assails us, a laboratory for studying the changes that are occurring, and a vehicle for establishing a common bond when social divisions are deep. This requires a fundamental change in how American history is taught and learned to make it relevant to our students lives, captivating and inclusive to all Americans."