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Campaign to mandate new civics test for all students


Saint Louis, Mo. — A new education initiative in Missouri would mandate all students in the state pass the same test administered to immigrants looking to become full U.S. citizens.

The Missouri arm of the national Civics Education Initiative contracted Hemphill & Associates — a Jefferson City-based lobbying firm frequently involved in education issues — to push for a statutory change to Missouri law mandating the administration of the test used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to determine citizenship eligibility.

Immigrants looking to become United States citizens must pass the 100-question test as part of the process to full citizenship, but the average American high school student cannot pass the same test.

According to the Pew Research Center, only about one-third of Americans can name a single branch of government — a question found on the USCIS test — and studies conducted in Arizona and Oklahoma showed only 4 percent of high school students able to pass the test.

The Missouri Civics Education Initiative has an impressive list of co-chairs. Former Missouri Governor Bob Holden; Dan Mehan, President & CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce & Industry; former state senator Glen Klippenstein and former state representatives Mike Talboy, a Democrat, and Shane Schoeller, a Republican, all took part in a conference call this afternoon to unveil the plan.

Brent Hemphill told reporters that the new test requirement would need a change to state law and that bills would be filed in both the House and the Senate, but that they had not approached any lawmakers yet.

“Presently, this is the groundbreaking and we haven’t spoken with any legislators,” Hemphill said. “But we’re anticipating some bi-partisan support on this effort.”

For prospective citizens, the USCIS typically selects 10 questions from the test and random and requires a minimum passing grade of 60 percent. Hemphill said that the initiative would put no strings on how schools should administer the test. Sam Stone, the national campaign manager for the Civics Education Initiative, said schools would be given as much flexibility as possible.

“If they want to select 10 questions at random the way the USCIS does, that’s fine,” Stone said. “If they want to put 100 questions down and say it’s the test, that’s fine. We’re going to allow the local schools and communities to determine what the best way is for them.”

Holden said he supported the initiative not just because he firmly believed in better civic education, but because it was a practical and cost-effective first step.

“A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step,” Holden said. “There’s already an apparatus in place to administer this test and it’s not something that the schools are going to have to spend resources creating.”

If successful, The Missouri Civics Education Initiative would require all students pass the test before receiving their high school diploma or their general education development (GED) equivalency.