Data Scarce for Gauging Scope of Language Study

Foreign-language organizations conduct surveys of programs but once a decade.

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By all accounts, interest in language classes outside the traditional offerings has grown over the past several years as more attention is paid to the need for speakers of Arabic and Chinese to help deal with the United States’ security and economic concerns. But hard data are lacking in a field that is measured only periodically.

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, or ACTFL, in Alexandria, Va., has traditionally conducted surveys of foreign- language programs, students, and teachers once a decade, the last in 2000. The Center for Applied Linguistics released its own survey in the late 1990s.

Both organizations applied for grants last fall through the U.S. Department of Education to do an updated study of the field. They are expecting a response to the request later this spring.

“We should do a survey every five years to get an accurate gauge,” said Nancy Rhodes, the director of foreign-language education for the applied-linguistics center, located in Washington.

A survey now would also help experts figure out if the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires testing of students in grades 3-8 in mathematics and reading, is having an adverse effect on elementary foreign-language programs.

“We need updated data,” Ms. Rhodes said.

NAEP Postponed

The National Assessment of Educational Progress administered its first foreign-language test, in Spanish, on a pilot basis in 2004.

Foreign-language groups hailed the test as signaling the importance of language instruction.

The governing board of the federally sponsored NAEP, however, then pushed back to 2012 the first full administration of the test, which is designed to gauge students’ listening, reading, speaking, and writing in Spanish.

“The NAEP assessment is sitting on the shelf,” said Marty Abbot, the director of education for ACTFL. “It was a state-of-the-art language assessment, but now it will be 2012 before we use it.”

Vol. 25, Issue 29, Pages 24-25

Published in Print: March 29, 2006, as Data Scarce for Gauging Scope of Language Study
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