Planning Committee Unveils Proposals For NAEP Spanish Exam

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Students may need to know at least some English to take the NAEP Spanish test, the national assessment's first exam in a foreign language.

That's one preliminary recommendation from a planning committee that has been designing the test for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Seeking Feedback
Preliminary recommendations of the planning committee for the first NAEP foreign-language-test frameworks will be presented at the following meetings:
Oct. 16: Florida Foreign Language Association, Orlando, Fla.

Oct. 22: Illinois Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, Springfield, Ill.

Oct. 29: Massachusetts Foreign Language Association, Sturbridge, Mass.

Nov. 6: Wisconsin Association of Foreign Language Teachers, Appleton, Wis.

Nov. 9: National Foreign Language Center, Washington

Nov. 15: Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, Calif.

Nov. 21: American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages '99, Dallas

The Center for Applied Linguistics also invites the public to comment on the recommendations using a World Wide Web site that will be available after Nov. 1 at

For information on admittance to the public-comment sessions at the foreign-language conferences, call Ed Scebold at the ACTFL, (914) 963-8830, ext. 222.

That recommendation, among others, is expected to draw debate over the next six weeks as the panel's proposed guidelines are opened for public reaction.

The National Assessment Governing Board, which is authorized by Congress to set policy for NAEP, voted in 1996 to conduct an assessment in 2003 of secondary students' knowledge of Spanish. The board said it also would carry out some small-scale tests in other foreign languages.

Through a $1.1 million contract awarded in May, the board, known as NAGB, asked the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics to form a national consensus among policymakers, curriculum and testing experts, business people, and others to plan the test's frameworks and specifications. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and the American Institutes for Research were named as subcontractors in the process.

Recommendations yielded by the process were expected to be useful for a NAEP test in any foreign language, even though the first one will be in Spanish.

"The framework will provide some generic guidance for any foreign language so it could serve as a model for state and district assessments," said Mary Crovo, the governing board's assistant director of test development.

At week's end, the center will take the planning committee's preliminary recommendations on the road, making presentations and seeking comments at conferences of foreign-language teachers, gatherings of students and teachers, and public meetings in Washington and Monterey, Calif.

The planning committee will deliver its revised recommendations to NAGB in January, and the board will make its own revisions and take a vote on the final frameworks and specifications next May.

"NAGB may overturn everything; we hope not," said Dorry Kenyon, the director of the division of foreign-language education and testing at the Center for Applied Linguistics, who is leading the consensus process.

How Inclusive?

Whether to include students who have learned Spanish outside the classroom--native speakers, for example--has been the biggest sticking point for members of the committee, Mr. Kenyon said.

"There are two schools of thought: Is NAEP just about what schools have done, or is NAEP talking about a national capacity?" he said. "If you're talking about a national capacity, you would include 12th graders who speak Spanish, however they learned it."

The planning committee is recommending that the test sample include students who learned Spanish outside school, but that the testing follow the same guidelines for inclusion of limited-English-proficient students used by other NAEP tests. Mr. Kenyon also noted that the committee is recommending that instructions for the Spanish test be in English. Test scores would be broken out according to whether students had been taught Spanish in school or not.

Lawrence Feinberg, the assistant director of reporting and analysis for the assessment governing board, said the NAEP guidelines for LEP students shouldn't be an issue with the new Spanish test because so few students in 12th grade--the only grade being tested--fall under that category.

For the 1998 NAEP in writing, 2 percent of the 19,500 12th graders in the test sample were identified as having limited English proficiency, and only one-third of 1 percent of the total sample--fewer than 65 students--ended up being excluded for a poor command of English, Mr. Feinberg said.

The preliminary recommendations also say the test should be given to 12th graders who are currently taking Spanish, as well as those who have previously studied the language, and that scores should be broken out accordingly for those groups. The test results also should be broken out according to the highest-level Spanish course the test-taker would have taken, the panel says.

The panel also is recommending that the test be closely aligned with national standards in foreign-language education set by professional groups in 1996. The committee is seeking public advice on what languages should be included in smaller test samples conducted along with the Spanish-language exam.

Remaining Questions

Though one education expert who wasn't a member of the planning committee applauded the preliminary recommendation that native speakers of Spanish be included in the test sample, she voiced concern that the test design would shortchange those children.

"I have to presume [the planners] are looking at the test from the foreign-language perspective, as an additive, rather than from the bilingual perspective," said Sonia Hernandez, the deputy superintendent for curriculum and instructional leadership for the California Department of Education.

"I have an ongoing concern about the question, 'Where did you learn your Spanish?' " she added, arguing that it leads to unequal recognition. She recommends that the distinction not be made in the reporting of the scores for the proposed NAEP Spanish test.

Experts have generally praised the governing board's decision to create a foreign-language test, saying they hope it will provide information useful to policymakers.

Vol. 19, Issue 7, Page 6

Published in Print: October 13, 1999, as Planning Committee Unveils Proposals For NAEP Spanish Exam
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