Credit Where Credit Is Due

Proposed Tests Could Set ESL Students On Path To Advanced Studies Diplomas

Posted: January 31, 2013

Henry Garcia teaches a class in Spanish for native speakers at Harrisonburg High School on Monday. A proposal that went before the Harrisonburg School Board would make students eligible to earn credits toward graduation for proficiency in languages they learn outside of school. The board is expected to vote on the proposal at its meeting next Tuesday. (Photos by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Jazlyn Sanchez, 17, a junior at Harrisonburg High School, reads from a textbook about the U.S. government during class on Monday. Under a new proposal, students who primarily speak another language could take foreign language tests to gain credits needed for an advanced studies degree.

HARRISONBURG — Sitting through a semester- or yearlong course may no longer be the only way Harrisonburg High School students can earn foreign language credit.

 

A proposal that went before the Harrisonburg City School Board Jan. 15 would make tests available that will gauge students’ proficiency in languages they learn outside HHS’ halls — in other countries or through other classes or community programs.

 

If they meet certain scores, they will be awarded credits toward graduation.

 

The board is expected to vote on the proposal at its next meeting on Tuesday.

 

“We want to honor people who learn languages wherever they learn them,” said Jeremy Aldrich, foreign languages coordinator for Harrisonburg City Schools.
 

The division would shoulder the cost of the tests — anywhere from $17.50 to $199 per test — as long as students passed a screening indicating that they are ready to take the test and are likely to pass.
 

Students would be tested on writing and speaking ability, primarily by computer, in a two-hour assessment.

 

Students can receive from one to three credits, depending on how well they do on the battery of tests, which are offered through Language Testing International.

 

Harrisonburg High School offers courses in Spanish, French and Latin, but through the testing students would have the ability to earn credits in more than 100 languages.

 

“For Harrisonburg, it was a no-brainer,” Aldrich wrote in an email. “Our students speak at least 51 languages other than English, but we only offer courses in three. … There’s not much of a chance we’re going to offer classes in all those languages anytime soon, but we can use nationally recognized tests to let students prove their writing and speaking skills.”

 

The goal of offering the testing is helping students earn credits toward an advanced studies diploma, which requires either three years of instruction in one language or two years of instruction in each of two languages.

 

Most importantly, students who primarily speak another language could use the tests to gain credits needed for an advanced studies diploma.

 

“We want students who might have other barriers in their way to getting an advanced diploma to be honored for the language that they speak, even if we don’t have classes for them in our division,” Aldrich said. “We want as many students as possible to get advanced diplomas.”

 

Aldrich said many students pursue instruction in languages not offered at HHS through other programs or while studying abroad and should have an opportunity to gain credit for their work.

 

“We’d like to support [students] continuing in a language that’s important to them and that’s useful to know,” he said.

 

Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or esharrer@dnronline.com



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