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Hispanic students taking AP Spanish: a scam?

Early last Monday morning, while I was still in bed wondering why the Today Show had gotten so tabloidish, I was slammed on my washingtonpost.com blog by a reader who did not like my column about Doris Jackson, principal at Wakefield High School in Arlington County. It wasn’t Jackson that bothered the commenter, but my praise of the school’s strong performance on Advanced Placement tests. He had a complaint that has often puzzled me: Hispanic students who take AP Spanish, and the schools that let them do it, are getting away with something, he suggested.

“It is because of the Internet that we know that about half the students in Wakefield are Hispanic,” he said. “We also know that the AP test that they are taking, which has falsely massaged these stats, is the Spanish Advanced Placement test. Take away that fabrication of academic performance, and the true percentage of AP tests passed plummets.”

When I got to the office and saw his comment I went to the Arlington schools Web site, a terrific source of data, to see if he was right. My fact-checking didn’t have much to do with the real problem---dissing Spanish-speaking kids for studying Spanish---but I will get there. Most of the time when I get into arguments with readers, they turn out to be right, and me wrong. This time I had a rare opportunity to wallow in rectitude on my blog:

“Counting all AP tests, including Spanish Language and Spanish Literature, 60.5 percent of tests [at Wakefield] were scored 3 and above (343 out of a total of 567 tests). When I subtracted the Spanish AP Language and Literature numbers (86 out of 109 test graded 3 and above), I found the percentage of AP tests graded 3 and above for the school dropped to 56.1 percent (257 out of 458 tests). If you think a drop from 60.5 to 56.1 percent is a plummet, you are entitled to your opinion, but I don’t think most readers would endorse your view. Wakefield is an unusual school for many reasons, one being the depth of the AP program in many subjects.”

Readers soon gravitated to the bigger issue: why was it wrong for Hispanic students to take a Spanish course? I have noticed a double standard. Two of my children, whose parents can’t speak Spanish and didn’t take it in school, worked hard to learn that language and now use it in their jobs. They are truly bilingual. This impresses people. So why are we not similarly gratified when Hispanic students with fewer advantages than my kids work just as hard to master the same two important languages?

We seem to be less interested in the results than how they are achieved. But when you think about it, everyone is taking the same approach. The two Spanish-speaking Mathewses struggled to get their grammar and vocabulary right in Spanish classes. Their friends from immigrant Hispanic families did the same in English classes. Each took classes in their native languages to polish their skills.

One commenter on my blog, who indicated he was a non-Hispanic student in his fourth year of Spanish, said that “students whose first language is Spanish speak English much better than English speakers speak Spanish. However, Spanish speakers are forced to take standard English classes but English speakers take much simpler Spanish classes. So how is that cheating?” He said Hispanic students have difficulty in his Spanish class “because they are used to using slang or different vocabulary than what we are assigned.”

When my colleague Theresa Vargas, a Stanford graduate who grew up in an Hispanic family in San Antonio, worked in the next cubicle, I envied her ability to strike up conversations with the building’s janitorial staff. She was learning new things, as my kids are, while I remained stuck in my little English-speaking ghetto. I don’t think that is anything to feel superior about.

Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.
Follow all the Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page, http://washingtonpost.com/education.

By Jay Mathews  | June 20, 2010; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  Is Hispanic students taking AP Spanish a scam, Theresa Vargas, charge that Wakefield AP scores plummet without AP Spanish, double standard for language learners  
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Comments

Two points:
1. I don't see any problem with Hispanic students taking AP Spanish. If a student went to the trouble to learn two languages, who cares if one of them was learned in high school, or if both were learned in infancy.

2. If you think being Hispanic gives you an automatic 5 in AP Spanish, think again. The Spanish that is spoken in your typical Hispanic-American family is pretty different from what is taught in your typical University Spanish course.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | June 20, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

I think a lot of people don't know the difference between academic Spanish (or English) and the language that is spoken at home. A lot of us speak fluent English and yet we might not do well on AP English. It's the same with Spanish. Of course, if a person already knows the language, the exam will be easier. I don't see anything wrong with this. Wouldn't the student brought up with a history buff have an edge in AP History?

The lesson here is that it's extremely important for our students to learn a second language and learn it well. One of my sons is bilingual and it's a huge asset in his career as an elected official.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 20, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Proposed new ETS AP Exam Exclusion Rules:

1. If your last name is...you are excluded from taking the eaxam for:

Schultz, Meyer, Kohl... AP German
Trudeau, Peltier, Dubois... AP French
Kwan, Zhau, Lu... AP Chinese
Julii, Scipio, Pontius... AP Latin: Vergil
(If your first name is Vergil, you are also excluded)

2. If you have never romantically kissed another person OR posess a network server in your home... then you are excluded from taking AP Computer Science.

3. If you live within the bounds of Interstate 495... then you are excluded from AP US Government and Politics.

4. If you hair is NOT dyed one of the following colors: green, blue, red, pink, purple or black)... then you are excluded from AP Studio Art.

5. If you plan throughout your adulthood to live in your parent's basement OR above their garage... then you are excluded from AP Statistics.

6. If you have a pulse... then you are excluded from AP Music Theory.

Posted by: professor70 | June 20, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

I meant "exam" om line 2.

"..only happy little accidents." --Bob Ross

Posted by: professor70 | June 21, 2010 12:49 AM | Report abuse

"So why are we not similarly gratified when Hispanic students with fewer advantages than my kids work just as hard to master the same two important languages?"

Jay, don't be silly. They didn't work as hard. By and large, the Hispanic kids don't have anywhere near the English skills that your kids had in Spanish--as is evidenced by their much lower SAT scores. And they only do well on the Spanish tests because the tests are designed for English speakers learning a new language, so the tests are extremely easy for native speakers.

For other people to understand how idiotic Jay's position is, consider these actual scores from two students I had several years ago.

Spanish native speaker:

AP Spanish: 5
SAT Spanish: 800
ACT Reading: 14
ACT English: 15
SAT R: 430

American student, learned Spanish
AP Spanish: 5
SAT Spanish: 750
ACT Reading: 29
ACT English: 35
SAT R: 700

According to Jay, these students are equal in mastery. I'm not sure if Jay's delusional or simply determined to ignore reality.

By the way, itt's neither superior nor inferior to learn another language. Nor is it, as Jay would have it, the only way to "learn new things".

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 21, 2010 3:00 AM | Report abuse

Cal, I knew you would oppose this because when Jay ran a similar column you mentioned your concerns. Number one there are 2 Spanish AP tests, one that focuses on Spanish Literature and the other on I believe the language (written, grammar, structure etc). In my opinion this is sp,somewhat similar to the 2 different AP English exams offered.

Jay wasn't exactly saying every student who takes an AP Spanish test is equal to any particular other student who takes AP tests, so your anecdotal comparison doesn't tell us much.

The issue the reader is apparently upset with is Hispanic students being allowed to take AP Spanish, and by doing so that was somehow falsely rising Wakefield's AP pass rates.

The reader's assumptions are erroneous. As Jay pointed out the pass rate did not plummet when the Spanish test takers were taken out.

I don't see how you can ban anyone from taking an AP test, as Professor70 aptly pointed out, it would be rather ridiculous to take such an approach.

Posted by: researcher2 | June 21, 2010 6:05 AM | Report abuse

I think everyone is missing one important point. Not every Hispanic person speaks Spanish. My husband is of Mexican descent and knows some slang, but would certainly not be at any advantage in a Spanish class. In fact, in college, he just barely made it through the foreign language requirement, taking Spanish. While many Hispanic people are bilingual, when you start making generalities about any group of people you get into dangerous territory.

Posted by: debs125751 | June 21, 2010 7:18 AM | Report abuse

I don't think this is as serious an issue as many think. First, though there are many people in America whose parents speak another language at home, it is rare that those children learn the language properly. AP Spanish, I understand, forces all students to learn Spanish grammar and use it properly in the written language. I recall studying intermediate Russian one summer at Georgetown and one of the students was a young man whose mother was Russian and who spoke the language very well himself. But he had never learned grammar in a proper setting, didn't know all of the conjugations, and ended up earning a D in the class. The same is the case for many second generation immigrants whose parents speak their native tongue, yet never taught them to write and speak properly. I would be willing to guess that the same is the case for many Hispanic Americans.

Perhaps an interesting experiment would be to administer a previous AP Spanish test to Hispanic students at the beginning of the course, and then at the end. If the students are earning 5's even before taking the course (language, not literature), then it might be wise to suggest that they take another course and simply sit for the exam at the end of the year. But if they earn only 3's or 4's, and improve over the course of the year, then we have our proof that the class is really helping.

Posted by: sbgoldrick | June 21, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Well, central office folks are falling all over themselves to appear on your list of "best" high schools, Jay, so why shouldn't they encourage Spanish speakers to take the AP Spanish exam?

Posted by: fabtular | June 21, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

"I think everyone is missing one important point. Not every Hispanic person speaks Spanish."

Was there some reason you desperately wanted to inject yourself in this conversation, or are you capable of realizing that Hispanic is a shortcut for "native Spanish speaker"?

"In my opinion this is sp,somewhat similar to the 2 different AP English exams offered."

It's not. There's no comparison.

Again: the foreign language exams were designed for students who DO NOT speak the language in question. It is unfair to put native speakers in the pool taking the test. Full stop.

If you want an apples to apples comparison, then create an AP Spanish/Chinese/Korean/etc test for native speakers. It would be exactly the same degree of difficulty that the current AP English tests are.

If you did that, the Spanish speaking scores would plummet--and I do mean plummet, not drop from 60 to 56%.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 21, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

I will admit it is easier for native speakers. As others have pointed out, to be consistent, critics should have the same objection for any foreign language course. But so what? Calculus is easy for those who are mathematically inclined. Art is easy for those who love to work in different media. Oh and don't forget fun! Or are we not allowed to have fun in education?

The MOST important part of offering AP Spanish to native speakers is that it introduces traditionally underrepresented students often from lower socio-economic groups to the world of AP, and then serves as a gateway to college level work, and eventually to college. That is an admirable goal, and not in any way diminished by some bean counter administrator crowing over AP scores. Yes their SAT and ACT scores will be lower, but so what? I would argue their scores improved on the SAT and ACT due to the fact they took a disciplined and rigorous AP class with students who were motivated to attend college (like Jay's kids). Without AP they wouldn't have even taken the ACT or SAT. Surely you can see that is a win-win situation.

Posted by: hotrod3 | June 21, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Just because a person speaks a language at home, that doesn't mean they are literate in that language. Many of our Hispanic students are being encouraged to take AP Spanish. Many students have only had a few years of formal education in the Spanish language before they came to the US, and for those student who were born in the US, the only schooling they've ever had was conducted in English. So how do you expect students who read and write Spanish on a 2nd grade level (if at all) to read college level literature and write college level essays in Spanish? I'm all for exposing kids to AP and playing to students' strengths, but this is a superficial move and is sure to be very frustrating for many students.

Posted by: dudakadud | June 21, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Is it cheating for native English speakers to take AP English?

Posted by: suenoir | June 21, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

The Spanish AP Literature test includes the same authors that are studied at the 300-400 level in college in the US. The test is NOT easy. Students have to know the terminology in Spanish for literature analysis like theme, plot, etc. and be able to analyze literature through writing that uses proper spelling, grammar and punctuation.

The term Hispanic refers to people living in the U.S. who have a Spanish last name. That group has a huge range of Spanish-speaking ability levels from English only speakers to people who understand a little, but can't speak, to people who speak and can't read or write, all the way to fully educated in another country and experts in language and literature. The group is extremely diverse.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 21, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

" But so what? Calculus is easy for those who are mathematically inclined. "

Actually, that's not true. It's easy for some, not easy for others. But that's not the issue.

The issue, again, is that the test was NOT developed for native speakers.

"The MOST important part of offering AP Spanish to native speakers is that it introduces traditionally underrepresented students often from lower socio-economic groups to the world of AP, and then serves as a gateway to college level work, and eventually to college."

First, cite. There's no evidence this is the result. The kids take the test because it ups their scores.

Second, let's think, if we can, of another traditionally underrepresented student population often from lower socio-economic income levels that doesn't have this "get out of the low test score basement free" card.

Provide one reason, if you can, that low income, low ability Hispanics who are non-native English speakers should receive this artificial legup over African Americans.

Here's an answer: there is no reason. It's revolting that barrio hispanics should be able to artificially improve their sat and AP scores with an out that isn't available to their competition--namely, blacks.

"That group has a huge range of Spanish-speaking ability levels from English only speakers to people who understand a little, but can't speak, to people who speak and can't read or write, all the way to fully educated in another country and experts in language and literature. "

Blah, blah, blah. Is this something you thought anyone here didn't know? Do you think the push is to ban people with a Hispanic surname from taking the tests? Otherwise, what's your point other than to indulge in vapid pedantry?

Look. Jay made the first error. I don't think I have ever, in my many conversations on this subject, indicated that I was referring to Hispanics, as opposed to anyone (Hispanic or otherwise) taking advantage of a test designed for non-native speakers.

So give the tedium a rest, can you?

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 21, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

A great discussion. I loved professor70's injection of humor, always welcome on this blog. And I have slight quibble with Cal's first comment. It went like this:

"So why are we not similarly gratified when Hispanic students with fewer advantages than my kids work just as hard to master the same two important languages?"

Jay, don't be silly. They didn't work as hard.

Then Cal argued that they don't work as hard to learn Spanish, where I think she has a point, but she failed to notice that I said that Hispanic kids were working as hard as my kids to master TWO languages. So her argument doesn't hold weight unless she can show that the Hispanic kids are not working hard to learn English. Seems like their low scores, as noted by Cal, suggest that they DO have to work hard to improve there, just as my kids had to do to built their Spanish.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 21, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

@Cal_Lanier said:
------------------------
Provide one reason, if you can, that low income, low ability Hispanics who are non-native English speakers should receive this artificial legup over African Americans.

Here's an answer: there is no reason. It's revolting that barrio hispanics should be able to artificially improve their sat and AP scores with an out that isn't available to their competition--namely, blacks.
-------------------------

This comment is full of offensive language and erroneous assumptions.
- low-income does not equate to low ability
- low-ability students will not score high on AP exams
- the leg-up is not artificial. These students have been raised bilingual. This may be an advantage, but it is not an "unfair" advantage.
- the AP Spanish Language exam measures a student's ability to listen, speak, read, and write Spanish, as well as their knowledge of the cultures of Spanish-speaking countries. Scores on this exam do not impact college acceptance, but it may earn a student college credit.
- "barrio hispanics" is as offensive as "ghetto blacks" would be.
- not only "blacks," but all non-native English speakers would be the "competition" you speak of, except that the AP exam is not part of a competition, as you might consider SAT scores to be.

Posted by: hippiehigh | June 21, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

@ Cal_Lanier

Jay's blog is about Hispanic students taking AP courses. Many people assume that Hispanic people speak Spanish. A lot don't. That was my point.

As Linda_Retired_Teacher above states, many people don't know the difference between spoken language and academic language.

Many teachers don't understand that if a student speaks a little Spanish, it doesn't mean that that student is educated in the language or literature of that country. I think many Spanish teachers don't even understand this.


Sorry if I sound pedantic, but I have spent a lot of years studying bilingual populations and second language adquistion and I find the topic interesting.

Question for Cal_Lanier, should students whose parents are fluent speakers of French be allowed to take French Immersion courses, which also lead towards the AP French exam?

Posted by: celestun100 | June 21, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

@ Cal_Lanier

Jay's blog is about Hispanic students taking AP courses. Many people assume that Hispanic people speak Spanish. A lot don't. That was my point.

As Linda_Retired_Teacher above states, many people don't know the difference between spoken language and academic language.

Many teachers don't understand that if a student speaks a little Spanish, it doesn't mean that that student is educated in the language or literature of that country. I think many Spanish teachers don't even understand this.


Sorry if I sound pedantic, but I have spent a lot of years studying bilingual populations and second language aquisition and I find the topic interesting.

Question for Cal_Lanier, should students whose parents are fluent speakers of French be allowed to take French Immersion courses, which also lead towards the AP French exam?

Posted by: celestun100 | June 21, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Besides all this arguing about if it is fair or not, anyone who really wants to learn the language is delighted to have native speakers in class with them. They can learn a lot from them because they speak in the language without hesitation.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 21, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

@Jay
In answer to your question about why is it considered great for English speaking kids to learn Spanish and not for people from Spanish speaking backgrounds to do so, I think it is based on a false assumption that you have to learn one language or the other and the other false assumption that Hispanics already "know" Spanish.

Speaking only Spanish here in the U.S. would be a clear disadvantage, so studying Spanish when your family already speaks the language seems to be a waste of time. "They should concentrate on English" is the general idea.


And then there is the idea that you would sign up for a course as a beginner that you know nothing about. So French or Italian, while way less marketable here in the United States, would be a new language and therefore better to spend time on.

Becoming totally fluent and literate in another language is not easy. It takes work and motivation so I applaud your kids for being able to learn another language.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 21, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Brand-new parents who didn't want their child educationally disadvantaged compared to "those cheatin' Hispanics" have always been free to learn Spanish themselves and teach it to their child along with English. Or hire a tutor. Non-bilingual parents throughout history have managed to find ways to raise bilingual (or trilingual) children. If you couldn't trouble yourself to do that, then don't bother the rest of us 17 years down the road with your pathetic "no fair" whining.

And that comment comes from someone who thinks the U.S. should declare English to be its official language, with no public services except in English. Imagine how little I would sympathize were I a bleeding heart liberal!

Posted by: dmm1 | June 21, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I worked in a school with a very high population of students from South and Central America. One student I had from Bolivia took classes in French instead of Spanish. This was very much in character for her because she always strove to learn and grades for her were a secondary consideration. She took advantage of the opportunity to learn a THIRD language instead of seeking an easy A.

Posted by: physicsteacher | June 21, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Won't JM sometime point out there are two Spanish AP courses, as there are for English. One is language, the other is literature. Tell us much more, too, about them. At some schools, academic intensity is evidenced by enrollment and high pass rates in the second, Spanish Literature AP course and tests. Spanish language fluency cannot but help appreciate the poetry of the Language course, but it cannot help much in doing the work of mastering the basics of that literature.
I've often enough denigrated as inauthentic schools seeking to maximize their own stats on the Challenge Index, no matter the educational well-being of their Spanish home language students. Hit "replay." Surely the blogger can see the parallel between schools pressuring Spanish Language AP on Spanish home language students and coaches' recruiting tall students to basketball and big-footed kids to swim breaststroke.
But, credit for AP implied bi-lingualism and mastery of a literature in another language? Absolutely, for every student, as long as it is for students' primary benefit, not first for the benefit of the stat-making school's. Let's make no inference about the Spanish language proficiency of any student taking and passing AP world history or art history or human geography instead of credentialing her Spanish language background. Interests are various and multiple; and study time is short.
In a comment following an earlier column on Wakefield HS, the blogger cited the high AP pass-rates in Spanish AP course(s), and saw rates almost as high in other courses at Wakefield HS. Won't he look at other school districts to see if there's always such a high level of integrity?

Posted by: incredulous | June 21, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

my IB high school has a course called "IB Spanish for Fluent Speakers", in addition to Higher Level and Standard Level IB Spanish. Not all the students in it are Hispanic, because one of the local elementary schools offers an immersion program, but many of them are. Would something like this be a good option for AP to consider?

Posted by: sarahee | June 21, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Cal,
The typical reason any student takes an AP course is to improve their admissions chances number one to college, and number two to possibly get credit and bypass a lower level college class.

I honestly don't understand your concern. The admissions process looks at all of the AP courses, SAT scores, any AP test results known at admissions etc. No one is granted admission solely for taking one particular AP class (and it has been pointed out by me and others that there are 2 AP Spanish courses).

These students, if truly capable native Spanish speakers could simply take the fluency test at whatever college to bypass the college language requirement (if there is one for their prospective major).

Instead, they take the AP course (and will also possibly take the college fluency test).

Many students take AP exams without a course. Many students take only the AP courses that are well-known to be easy (the course and the exam..forgive me, patrick, but AP Psych comes to mind).

Unless you are going to prevent students from taking an AP course that would be "too easy for them and thus inflating the AP pass rates at the school/district" this is, in my opinion, a non-issue.

You can't rightly claim one course/exam shouldn't be given to any particular group.

Please show proof of your claim that the AP Spanish examS are for non-native speakers only. (proof that both the grammar version of the AP exam, and the more difficult Lit one).

Does the AP French exam have this same qualifier? What about Arabic; should heavily Arab areas exclude those students?

And how do you prove a student is a non-native speaker (if they take the test and not a course, school system wouldn't be aware at all of their fluency).

Posted by: researcher2 | June 21, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

It should also be pointed out that Wakefield is the high school that many, if not most, of the Spanish Immersion students from Gunston Middle School (and from Key and Claremont Elementary Schools) feed into. My child and many of his friends went to Key and Gunston, and many of them went on to Wakefield even if their home schools were W-L or Yorktown. By and large they don't have Hispanic surnames (and come in all colors, including white), so they aren't identifiable that way.

This may be another reason that there is a preponderance of Spanish AP exams being given at Wakefield. Not because of the larger number of native speakers, but because of the several dozen immersion students.
The immersion students have an advantage in some ways over the kids taking traditional classes, but according to my child, the Spanish AP exam was no walk in the park even with 9+ years of immersion and Spanish language study.

Posted by: capybara | June 21, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I've seen private schools offering "Chinese for Heritage Speakers" courses, maybe it's time to offer a "Spanish for Heritage Speakers" AP exam. If I were a college admissions officer evaluating a Hispanic applicant, I'd be much more impressed by a 5 on a "Spanish for Heritage Speakers" exam than a 5 on the regular AP Spanish Language exam.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | June 21, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

good comments from incredulous, but I did say there are two Spanish AP courses, if you will look up at the column again at the place where I worshipfully quoted myself.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 21, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Cal said:
"The foreign language exams were designed for students who DO NOT speak the language in question. It is unfair to put native speakers in the pool taking the test. Full stop."

And the AP Music Theory (listening part) was designed for people WITHOUT perfect pitch. It is unfair to put people with perfect pitch in the pool taking the test. Full stop.

Posted by: capybara | June 21, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse


The University at Albany offers courses called "Spanish for Bilinguals". Gabriel Guadalupe currently pursuing a PHD in Spanish Linguistics teaches the course and says, "Heritage speakers, who learn Spanish from their families and primarily or only use the language at home, tend to have an advanced oral competence and ease in their heritage language , but they face certain difficulties in applying their knowledge to using and writing a standard form of Spanish."

I agree with researcher2. There is no reason to have another AP test for heritage learners. The students who know Spanish well should get an Advanced placement in Spanish. They should not take Spanish 101 in college unless they are true beginners.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 21, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

"And the AP Music Theory (listening part) was designed for people WITHOUT perfect pitch. It is unfair to put people with perfect pitch in the pool taking the test. "

Um, you're a dolt. That's the third or fourth moronic and unfounded analogy this thread.

"low-income does not equate to low ability"

That's why I used two different adjectives, dimwit. Because both qualifiers were needed. Your knee was undoubtedly jerking so hard it interfered with your comprehension--assuming you're capable of understanding to start with.

" If I were a college admissions officer evaluating a Hispanic applicant, I'd be much more impressed by a 5 on a "Spanish for Heritage Speakers" exam than a 5 on the regular AP Spanish Language exam. "

There'd be a lot fewer. But yes, that's exactly what is needed in today's diverse environment. Foreign language tests designed for non-native speakers should be restricted to that population--and yes, people, I mean for all languages, which I've said in this thread and many other times.

"I honestly don't understand your concern"

Equity, as I've said a hundred times. I realize that it's unfashionable to care about equity with whites, but try to remember that it's really equity with all native English speakers--most particularly, as I said, blacks.

Given that blacks and Hispanics are, as groups, low scoring on all tests with the *exception* of the Spanish language tests where most (but yes, celestun, not all) Hispanics who take the test speak Spanish as a first language, it is a definite advantage to Hispanics over blacks in college admissions. (It goes without saying that relatively few blacks take the AP Spanish course, which *does* impact college admissions, and the only reason otherwise low academic ability Hispanics take the course is their language advantage, so spare me the "how does this affect college admissions nonsense).

Again, this is true for all foreign language tests, and I think the restriction should apply to all languages. But let's not kid ourselves that the largest advantage by far is given by AP Spanish tests and courses, because the majority of the native speakers taking this test have otherwise low skills in other academic areas.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 21, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/ap08_spanish_coursedesc.pdf

I tried cutting and pasting quite a bit, and apparently went too long.

Both of the AP Spanish tests are comparable to third-year level college courses, and neither state they are geared to "non-native" speakers as Cal has alleged.

Posted by: researcher2 | June 21, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Cal,
With all due respect, I do not appreciate being insulted ("you're a dolt"). Nor does hippiehigh I presume ("dimwit"; "assuming you're capable. . .")
If you do not like my analogy, that is fair enough, but personal attacks and calling people names is not advancing the discussion.

If I may offer a small piece of advice. In general, when people are personally attacked and insulted, it is far more unlikely that they will accept your point of view--regardless of how much merit it may have.
=====================
My point of view (which you may disagree with--but that doesn't make me an idiot or any other deprecation; it just means I have a difference of opinion) is that if an AP exam tests competence in a particular area, then I really don't care how that competence was attained. There are some people who are just born with remarkable math skills; there are those whose parents hire private tutors from a young age; there are your young Mozarts who are born musical geniuses, there are 6'9" basketball players--born to be tall, and there are those who get to grow up in households that speak another language. If I get struck by lightning and can suddenly speak and understand Urdu, well, good for me (except for the getting struck by lightning part. . .that probably would hurt).

Why should we care how someone attains their ability in a particular area? If they can then demonstrate a level of competence in that area, then I don't really care how they attained that skill.

Would an employer care how someone came to speak Spanish if they needed a bilingual manager? No.

I will agree with you, though, Cal, that if a college admissions officer is trying to ascertain a potential student's ambition and motivation, then looking beyond just the scores at other factors would be a wise thing to do. If that admissions officer wanted to discount the value of someone's score on the Spanish AP exam because they grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, then I would accept that point of view.

The fact is, though, that someone who grows up in a Spanish-speaking household actually speaks two languages--maybe well, maybe not so well--and that is better than speaking one language.

Kind regards,
C

Posted by: capybara | June 21, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

I am curious as to why Cal feels so strongly about this subject that s/he would raise the level of vituperation to such a high and personal degree.

Posted by: hippiehigh | June 21, 2010 10:02 PM | Report abuse

Sigh. My comment got eaten. I included too many quotes. So I won't bother dealing with Hippie and the Big Rat again. They aren't worth the bother anyway.

Researcher, check Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Placement_Spanish_Language

"While some students may be concerned about their ability to demonstrate proficiency in an assessment that native speakers of Spanish also take, only the scores of students who study Spanish as a second language are factored when creating the distribution curve of scores 1-5. Native speakers or heritage language speakers of Spanish are then compared to non-native distribution and assigned a score accordingly."

Now why do you think they would ignore native speakers when they score the test? Can you come up with any good reasons? Like, say, that's who the test was designed for? Like they know that if they include native speakers, it will skew the scores high which would be unfair to the people the test was designed for?

Also, check this out:

http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/ap08_SpanishLang_GradeDistributions.pdf

They only include the standard group when scoring. But the standard group is only about a third of the total testers. And when you include the native speakers, the test results are skewed high.

You seriously want to argue that a) the test wasn't designed for non-native speakers and b) that it gives an unfair advantage to students who aren't academically strong but are taking advantage of a non-academic advantage?

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 21, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

Having moved to Arlington in the mid-1980’s from our native El Salvador I can speak to the issue. One, over 90 percent of our parents from rural El Salvador and other Central American countries were illiterate and most of us who came under the age of 12 had been exposed to 3rd grade if we were lucky. Literacy in the language is essential for success. Two, a generation later our kids born in the United States have no basis of “literacy” in our native Spanish. It is not that we, the new generation of parents are illiterate, but our kids start elementary school in English. Other than the informal knowledge of the language, they are clueless in any form of literacy. My children will certainly be force to take Spanish in high school.

Posted by: Publius2 | June 22, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Publius:

What you describe is common to most immigrant groups. My aunt spoke the Italian of her immigrant parents but she would often say "I speak the Italian of a five-year-old child." She was barely literate in the language.

I think most people understand that you can speak English but still be illiterate in the language, but they don't realize that the same is true for all other languages as well. Therefore it is entirely appropriate for a Spanish-speaking student to study academic Spanish and take the AP Spanish test.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 22, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Linda and Publius you are exactly right!
Also, Cal the reason the test is scored for non-natives is to give them a chance on the test. It doesn't mean that the native, literate students shouldn't pass the test with a high score.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 22, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Asssessments are just that, assessments. They measure a level of competency. People need to stop trippin. I scored on my AP European Hist exam although I dropped the classs after the first two months. I scored on my AP US History exam and never took the class. I scored on the two AP English exams as well (I only took one semester classes), all 3's. I took my 12 credits to Univ of Md and the Northwestern HS took credit and it was win/win. Apparently the comprehensive courses I completed at NHS were rigorous enough that I could score on AP exams comparable to some other schools AP courses. What bother's me is the fact the schools that do the crying about this are not the ones servicing the hispanic community (my son a HS senior at High Point HS is black/non-hispanic). At High Point which is 45% hispanic, French Lit and Lang are the classes where scores are best followed by History. Spanish Lang ranks 4th among the AP courses in terms of students scoring 3 or above.

They are taking the purpose of schooling which is preparing kids for life and turning it into some sort of sport. AP exams are about rigor, and demonstration of the ability to handle college level coursework and examinations. Hispanic kids have enough obstacles in front of them and learning academic spanish is just another obstacle.

Posted by: riktiktik1 | June 22, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Cal, if a student scores a 5 on the Spanish AP Literature test and doesn't do well in any other academic course, that student doesn't know English well.

How absurd of you to claim that the Spanish courses aren't academic.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 22, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Food for thought: Isaac Asimov's father was literate in Hebrew and, I think, Russian. His son was literate--and then some!--in English. His father owned every book his son had written and proudly displayed them to visitors. He never learned to read English well enough to read any of them.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 22, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

It's a lot easier to learn a language if you grow up with it than if you try to do it when your 15. I think a lot of the value of AP classes is learning study skills and signaling them. AP Spanish doesn't do this for native speakers (both AP English do as most native speakers would fail).

Another way to look at it is like this. Imagine they had AP New York English test that tested your ability to speak New York English. People who grew up speaking it just understand the culture, vocabulary, and pronunciation (yes there is plenty of variation) but someone from the South would have to spend a ton of time learning the details. If New York schools were cranking out thousands of 5s would anyone be impressed? (No, speaking New York English isn't very useful, but neither is Spanish. And remember, knowing Spanish imposes negative externalities on everyone.

Posted by: steve10c | June 23, 2010 12:09 AM | Report abuse

I seem to remember reading that some of the California state schools would accept SAT II, and perhaps AP, scores in lieu of the SAT I. If I remember correctly, this was a deliberate attempt to raise the number of Hispanic students in the system, after race/ethnic-specific affirmative action was prohibited. Does anyone remember more about this?

Posted by: momof4md | June 23, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

The Spanish Literature Exam is a test on poetry, essays, short stories and excerpts from novels by esteemed authors who write/wrote in Spanish. Borges, Cervantes,Gracia Marquez, Garcia Lorca, etc.

It is like taking a test in English on English Literature. You have to know how to read literature and how to analyze it in writing.

@stevedc
I understand your point about New York English, but, that is exactly the point for Hispanics taking Spanish Language courses. People who grow up in the United States without any schooling in Spanish are not going to be able to read and write Standard Spanish anymore than you could read and write Standard English if you grew up in Spain attending schools in Spanish.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 23, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

This was about a decade ago, but there was a girl in my high school whose father was in the foreign service -- she'd been born in Russia, had spent her formative years in France and Germany, and came to the US when she was 15 or so, and learned most of her English here. Last I knew, she wanted to go into International Business.

She took the AP tests for all four languages (Russian, German, French, and English Lit) and got 5's on all of them (she was in my French class, and she was a bright student anyway). I have no idea where she ended up going to college, but I'm pretty sure she had the option of going through it in a shorter amount of time due to all the credits she racked up. And frankly, if she was willing to see what was on the test and spend the time to take it -- good on her! I'd've done the same in her situation; it's significantly more cost efficient to take the tests than it is to pay the university tuition to get the same credit. And I'm sure she "skewed" my school's results too. (For what it's worth, I got a 5 on the French AP test too, and I learned the language in middle and high school. It can certainly be done.)

Posted by: forget@menot.com | June 24, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

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