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30 Nations To Participate in Global-Language-Education Study

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Researchers and policymakers are gearing up plans for what will be the first study of language education in schools around the world.

Thus far, 30 nations have signaled their intent to participate in the study, which is being conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, or the I.E.A. The multinational group is best known for its massive cross-national comparisons of student achievement in mathematics, science, and reading.

"Given the movement of populations and technological developments, the nature of language education has changed so dramatically," Donna Christian, the president of the Center for Applied Linguistics, said. The nonprofit, Washington-based center is scheduled to conduct the first phase of the study in this country.

Despite calls for the nation's students to meet "world-class" academic standards, Ms. Christian said, little is known about how American students stack up against students elsewhere with respect to language studies.

The study will focus on the teaching of second languages, which, in the United States, would include English instruction for non-native speakers as well as the teaching of Spanish, French, German, and other languages commonly taught in precollegiate foreign-language programs.

"There are a lot of secondary languages that other nations are interested in, and one of them is English," said Ramsay Selden, the director of the state education assessment center for the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents the United States in the effort. "And there are languages where there is interest across countries, such as Spanish and German."

Less popular for the purposes of the nations joining in the study, he said, are Russian, Chinese, and Japanese.

Tracking Achievement

The first phase, scheduled to begin in June, is a background study that will focus on the political, social, and educational contexts in which languages are taught in the participating nations.

The second phase, the actual assessment, is scheduled to last two to three years. It will gauge student achievement in several languages and survey the kinds of teaching approaches used in classrooms.

However, Mr. Selden said, the United States has not yet decided whether it will participate in the second phase. That decision, expected later this year or early next year, depends on whether money can be found to pay for the nation's share of the effort.

The estimated $70,000 needed to support U.S. participation in the first phase of the study is being provided by the Spencer Foundation, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, the American Council of the Teaching of Foreign Languages, and the American Association of Teachers of German.

A report on the study's first phase is expected next year.

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