N.H. teachers react to U.S. naturalization test requirement
|Published: 06-19-2023 10:41 AM
With its history atop the primary election calendar, New Hampshire is often revered for its civically engaged citizens. A recent University of New Hampshire study found that the state ranked fifth in the nation in voting in the 2016 election, second in charitable giving and sixth in attending public meetings.
A bill coming into effect this summer seeks to ensure that New Hampshire’s youth uphold the state’s tradition of civic health.
Effective July 1, 2023, HB 157:1 requires that all New Hampshire high schoolers pass a civics competency assessment and the 128-question United States naturalization exam with at least a 70% to graduate. The exams will test students on the function and history of government, noteworthy civic leaders and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Most students will complete the requirement in their junior or senior year after taking a semester-long civics class.
The bill is not the first of its kind. SB 216, adopted in March, requires that educators of all grade levels incorporate civics into their curriculum.
Some New Hampshire teachers are unfazed by the change.
Stacie Boyajian, a social studies and civics teacher at Concord High School, said, “There’s really no shifting curriculum needed because the naturalization test is just common sense civics and government, so it’s all stuff we already do.”
“The test has been easy as pie for the kids,” she said. “At first it sounded like a big bad test… but then they were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so easy, we know this!’”
Questions range from the meaning of religious freedom to the number of voting members in the House of Representatives to the deadline for submitting federal income taxes.
Daniel Marcus is a civics teacher at John Stark Regional High School who said his students were “riveted” by the material on the exams.
Like all public schools in New Hampshire, Marcus’ school follows a competency-based curriculum that awards students credit based on their demonstrated mastery of skills and knowledge, rather than on time spent in the classroom. Students are often assessed on critical thinking rather than rote memorization.
Of the new competency-based civics test requirement, Marcus said, “We had structures in place that made it pretty easy to adapt to that part of the law. That was pretty smooth.”
Given his students’ familiarity with competency assessments, Marcus said he was surprised when some “shined with the memorization” required for the naturalization exam.
“Some of the kids who struggle on my traditional unit tests, where they have to do more critical thinking, felt some sense of relief because all they had to do was know the answer,” he said. “It’s kind of old school, but they liked it.”
But Marcus said he worries that the naturalization test is not the right way for students to be tested on civics. While students in New Hampshire take all 128 questions in a written format, people taking the test to gain U.S. citizenship are asked to answer just 20 questions orally.
“If I was to design the test, I don’t think it would look like this,” he said. “I think there’s good intention behind the law, but when you actually look at it, I don’t think the way we’re doing it makes 100% sense. But I do think the upshot has been good.”