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Officials seek to add more meaning to citizenship test | (KRT) Imagine two people standing in front of different immigration officials waiting to be asked American history questions that they must get right in order to become American citizens.

Candidate No. 1 is asked to name the colors of the U.S. flag. Candidate No. 2 in the room next door is asked to name the original 13 states. One question is obviously more difficult than the other.

It's that kind of disparity that federal immigration officials say they want to change with a new, standard method for quizzing would-be U.S. citizens on history and civics as well as the basics of reading, writing and speaking English.

Between now and 2006 when a new naturalization test is expected to go into effect, officials at the Citizenship and Immigration Services will be piloting test questions and formats for the new exam and consulting with academics and community groups about the changes.

"We recognize that the way the test is administered right now is not fair," said Alfonso Aguilar, head of the Office of Citizenship at CIS. "That's wrong. It shouldn't be harder to take it in Miami than L.A."

Aguilar also said that rather than ask immigrants to name the colors on the U.S. flag, it would be more meaningful to ask them about the significance of the flag's three colors.

"Right now the test is based on trivia," he said. "We believe it should be more substantive, more meaningful."

Canadian-born Patt Clegg and her husband and 21-year-old son took the citizenship test three years ago. By the luck of the draw, Clegg said, she and her husband ended up with the same questions but her son got different ones. And one of his questions was on the colors of the flag.

The Cleggs have lived in Anaheim, Calif., since 1993.

"I think it would make it even more meaningful," Clegg said, if the questions were more in depth. Because the Cleggs were fluent in English, they were able to study for their test by reading the booklet the immigration service provided to them.

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For those not so fluent in English, many community organizations and colleges offer citizenship courses.

"Anything that can be done to make the process more predictable and more accessible to the immigrant population will be a positive step," said Bishop Jaime Soto of the Catholic Diocese of Orange, Calif. Catholic Charities in Orange County is a key provider of citizenship help to local immigrants along with several community colleges. "Talking with folks about the citizenship process that say that is somewhat subjective. In some cases it has more to do with if the examiner has had a good day or a bad day."

Liliana Salizar passed her citizenship test in March. "For me, it was easy," said Salizar, who lives in Corona and is a trainer at a local gym. The weekend before the test, Salizar said, she studied the book given to her by Catholic Charities. Salizar was asked the name of the national anthem, who wrote it, what the Bill of Rights was and who was Martin Luther King.

The new test being considered may make use of more modern testing methods.

Now an examiner asks someone where the president lives and the applicant has to respond White House.

"What we're planning on doing in the history test is have 20 multiple choice questions," said Gerri Ratliff, director of the test revision project. "It would be in writing." The test might be given via computer. And it could be given verbally so people could listen to the questions on headphones.

For the reading and writing test, applicants now are asked to write a sentence spoken to them by their examiner. Then they're shown a sentence and asked to read it.

What is being considered, Ratliff said, is using pictures of everyday life. In the first pilot program, applicants were shown a picture of a family at a table eating and had to describe the action verbally and in writing.

Rosalind Gold, director of policy, research and advocacy at the National Association of Latino Elected Officials in Los Angeles, says in the name of making the test more standardized, it shouldn't become more difficult, especially for older immigrants or those with little formal education.

"A lot of immigrants we work with are not familiar with testing techniques the way someone who has gone through a U.S. high school would be," Gold said. Among the things they want federal officials to do is test the multiple-choice method with such applicants. And, she said, the pictures used should be of scenes that are familiar to immigrants.

Ratliff said they are listening to such concerns.

Aguilar also said that the 2006 implementation date for the new test is not set in stone. The department recently came under congressional fire for suggesting a new oath of citizenship that apparently was not fully vetted with lawmakers and that now has become the subject of a debate between Congress about who should write the new oath.

"We're not going to rush this," Aguilar said. "We want to make sure everybody has a say and nobody is taken off guard."



People studying for the U.S. citizenship test can review 100 sample questions that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provides naturalization candidates. In the test, candidates are not given a choice of answers. They are asked the question and must come up with the right answer. To look at all the questions, go to

The following are some of the questions:

1. How many stars are there in our flag? 50/51/100/52

2.Who has the power to declare war? Congress/ the president/ chief justice of the Supreme Court/ chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

3.Which of these is a purpose of the United Nations? To discuss and try to resolve world problems/ to settle civil wars/ to protect the United States/ to govern the world.

4.Which of the following amendments to the Constitution does not address or guarantee voting rights? 19th/24th/15th/7th

5. What are the colors of the flag: red and white/red, white and blue/red, white and black/ red and blue


1. 50

2. Congress

3. To discuss and try to resolve world problems

4. 7th Amendment

5. Red, white and blue.

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© 2004, The Orange County Register Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services