While in the fourth year of a five-year Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) federal grant, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) learned in late December that Congress had cut the grant’s final year of funding. ACTFL had used its portion of the grant, which was created to improve innovative foreign language programs, to develop nationally recognized language assessments. Consequently, four years’ worth of work developing these tests assessments would go unfinished. While the language programs in districts will continue, many teachers may lose their jobs and the assessments, which were intended to gauge students’ progress and assist in higher education placement, will remain unfinished.
“We’re very disappointed,” says Marty Abbott, executive director of ACTFL. “The rug has been pulled out from underneath these districts that receive FLAP funding for their programs.” One of ACTFL’s partner districts is Glastonbury (Conn.) Public Schools. According to Rita Oleksak, foreign language director in Glastonbury, students from her schools and other districts with high-performing foreign language programs have had to jump through hoops in the past when they enter college to prove they can handle a higher-level course because there are no nationally recognized assessments to place them.
On Dec. 15, Glastonbury was one of 20 districts recognized as a Confucius Classroom by the Asia Society for its exemplary Chinese language program. The district’s robust language program, however, is nothing new. Oleksak says that Glastonbury schools have had a strong language program, even at the elementary level, for over 50 years. There are 50 foreign language teachers for a student body of 7,000, and 10 English-language-learner teachers for 100 ELLs. The district now offers six languages. Before the district received word of the loss of funding, Oleksak says that it was “creating a prototype of innovative assessments.” These assessments, she said, would go beyond studying reading, speaking and writing and would evaluate how students can interact in a global society.
To date, there are no federally recognized language assessments. Advanced Placement classes, says Abbott, are not the same because they’re not offered in every language and are subjective in terms of how much credit a college will offer a student for them.
“After 9/11, building our nation’s language capacity became a critical issue,” says Abbott. “Ten years later, we still haven’t been able to get any traction on that issue on Capitol Hill.” For now, Abbott says the assessments will be put on hold until further funding can be found.