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Louisiana Lengthens School Day for Foreign-Language Study

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While foreign-language educators argue that developing the language proficiency of students is difficult, if not futile, unless academic programs begin in the elementary grades, few states have developed curricula that require students to begin study that early.

The New York State Board of Regents last year proposed requiring 9th-grade students to take a test in a foreign language and to pass the test before graduating from high school. The controversial proposal would encourage, but not require, foreign-language instruction in elementary schools.

And late last month, the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education moved that state into the forefront of those encouraging language proficiency.

30 Minutes a Day

The board adopted a new policy that would require school districts to use 30 minutes of every school day to teach foreign languages to academically able students in grades 4 through 8, according to Lois N. Michelli, education specialist for the board.

In January, the state board extended the length of the school day from 330 minutes to 360 minutes.

Last month, it said that the extra time should be used to teach foreign languages to students who are performing at the level set for their grade. For less academically able students, the time is to be used to master basic skills.

The language program will begin in 1985-86 with students in grade 4. It is to be phased in through grade 8 over a four-year period, according to Ms. Michelli, who said that a state law requires that the teaching of languages be optional in grades 1 to 3.

Districts that have developed programs to teach languages in those grades, however, will be required to use the newly alloted 30 minutes for that purpose, Ms. Michelli said.

More Teachers Needed

The state board has estimated that the it will need an additional 1,500 foreign-language teachers, according to Ms. Michelli. This will "create some problems," she said, but the state has "numerous areas from which those teachers could be recruited."

Teacher-certification requirements permit regular classroom teachers with 18 credit hours of language study to teach language, and the state could use English-as-second-language specialists and bilingual specialists to teach languages, according to Ms. Michelli.

She said that "teachers with regular certification in a subject area can take extra coursework to get the extra certification to teach languages" in elementary school.

In addition, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana has an agreement with Belgium to supply "all needed French teachers" for the state, Ms. Michelli said, and a teacher-exchange program arranged through the Cordell Hull Foundation could be used to recruit Spanish and Italian teachers for the state from South America.--sr

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