Assessment

National Foreign-Language Assessment Delayed Indefinitely

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — March 17, 2004 3 min read
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The first national assessment in foreign language, which was set to be given to 12th graders next fall, will be postponed indefinitely. Participation in a pilot test fell short of the necessary standard for ensuring the validity of test results.

At its meeting this month, the board that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress voted to put off the test, which was to be given for Spanish, pending further study. Since the administration of other NAEP tests is scheduled for 2005, the foreign-language test could not be rescheduled until at least 2006.

The assessment was to be given once every 10 years. Tests of other languages are not planned.

Participation issues cast doubt on whether the test—at two hours, the longest NAEP assessment—can be given in its current form, according to a report by Peggy G. Carr, the associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the Department of Education.

The test of students’ proficiency in Spanish includes a conversation component and a lengthy questionnaire on language experience. Many students who completed just one year of instruction in the language were reluctant to take part in the voluntary test, according to Ms. Carr’s report, summarized in the minutes of the March 4-6 meeting of the National Assessment Governing Board.

In May 2000, the board voted to add a Spanish-language assessment to the testing cycle for the first time in the 35-year history of NAEP. The test was to gauge how well the nation’s 12th graders who studied the subject could speak, read, listen, and write in the most popular foreign language.

In field tests, conducted last fall, only 42 percent of the representative sample of schools and students selected to take the exam opted to participate. Those numbers would not meet NCES standards for reporting results, and therefore, the data might not be considered valid.

Raising the Priority

The cost of the postponement has not been determined; however, several million dollars have already gone into test development and pilot testing.

Some advocates for foreign-language education expressed their disappointment at the decision. They said that such an exam would provide an important yardstick of how well students are learning a second language. Moreover, having a national test tends to raise the priority level for that particular subject, according to Bret Lovejoy, the executive director of the American Council on Foreign Language Teaching.

“Foreign language remains the only subject identified as a core area in national legislation that is yet to be part of the NAEP,” Mr. Lovejoy said.

The Alexandria, Va.-based association had plans to promote the importance of the national assessment, an effort Mr. Lovejoy said would have significantly boosted participation on the actual test.

The governing board directed the NCES to draft a plan describing how to correct the problems with the language exam. Once the report is completed, the board plans to reschedule the test.

Testing Seniors

In other action, the board appointed an ad hoc committee to study ways to improve participation on the 12th grade exams and to motivate students to do their best.

NAGB’s action stemmed from the report of the NAEP 12th grade commission, which over the past year has debated the future of the national assessment for seniors.

The report recommends expanding the 12th grade assessment to include state-level data and requiring state participation for the reading and mathematics tests. (“Panel Recommends State-Level NAEP For 12th Graders,” March 10, 2004.)

But the commission also expressed concern about the historically low participation on 12th grade NAEP exams, as well as perceptions that, with no incentive to do well, high school seniors may not take the test seriously.

The ad hoc committee is expected to complete its work by May of next year.

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