News from the Center for Applied Linguistics

November 1999

In This Issue

Call for Language Preservation Rings Clear at Conference CAL Helped Organize
CAL Project Sets Stage for National Language Assessment

Call for Language Preservation Rings Clear at Conference CAL Helped Organize

The Heritage Languages in America conference, held October 14-16 in Long Beach, California, in collaboration with California State University Long Beach, was the first major project of the Heritage Languages Initiative - a national effort by the National Foreign Language Center and the Center for Applied Linguistics to develop the languages of our heritage communities. Joy Kreeft Peyton of CAL served on the conference organizing team.

Nearly 300 leaders from heritage language communities and schools, pre-K - 12 schools, and colleges and universities joined world-renowned researchers, federal and state policymakers, and others interested in improving heritage language teaching (the teaching of languages other than English that are spoken in the United States).

Participants included noted researchers James E. Alatis (Georgetown University), Richard Brecht (National Foreign Language Center), Russell Campbell (UCLA), Donna Christian (Center for Applied Linguistics), Cecilia Colombi (University of California, Davis), Lily Wong Fillmore (Stanford University), Joshua Fishman (Yeshiva and Stanford Universities), the Honorable Cruz Reynoso (former federal judge, now at UCLA), Ana Roca (Florida International University), Fabián Samaniego (University of California, Davis), Guadalupe Valdés (Stanford University), and Terrence Wiley (Cal Poly University, Pomona). Over two dozen languages were represented - ranging from heritage languages with a long history in the United States, such as indigenous American Indian languages, Spanish, French, and German - to the languages of more recent immigrant populations from southeast Asia and other regions.

The conference provided a forum for presenting a rich array of heritage language success stories.

Policymakers talked of diverse and increasing language demands in many government and private sector areas, and said these areas are inadequately served by existing educational programs. Researchers discussed psychosocial benefits to immigrant and native American populations of maintaining strong ties to their communities, languages, and cultures. In short, the economic and social benefits to our nation of heritage language preservation are manifest.

These priorities were announced at the conference:

More information about the conference and the work of the Initiative is available at

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CAL Project Sets Stage for National Language Assessment

This group doesn't let Mother Nature or motherhood get in the way. Its September meeting was interrupted only briefly by Hurricane Floyd. The power did go out for hours but the group kept on working in the dark (and lunched by candlelight.) Oh yes, the same week, the project's associate director, Nancy Rhodes, found time to deliver a whopping 11lb. 4 oz. baby girl!

Equally remarkable are the size and quality of this hardworking group. CAL's new Foreign Language NAEP project consists, in fact, of not one group but many. More than 50 people and several organizations - representing parents, teachers, government, business, higher education, assessment and evaluation specialists, and local education officials - are part of the 14-month $1.1 million effort to build consensus on how the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will measure foreign language achievement in 2003. Funding is being provided by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB). Subcontractors for the project are the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

Goals and Purposes

The goal of the project is to develop recommendations for the assessment framework and specifications for the foreign language NAEP. Those recommendations will be presented to NAGB next Spring. The following is a summary of the committees' preliminary recommendations, now undergoing national review.

Between June and October, the project management team at CAL met with the steering committee, planning committee, and technical advisory panel to develop recommendations on the following:


The foreign language NAEP will provide information to the nation on how well students in the United States can communicate in languages other than English. Specifically, the 2003 assessment will focus on how well a representative sample of 12th grade students can communicate in Spanish. The Spanish assessment will be based on a general framework for assessing communicative ability in languages other than English. In this framework, listening, speaking, reading and writing skills are assessed within three modes of communication.

The framework for the foreign language NAEP calls for communicative ability to be assessed through authentic communication tasks as called for in school, work, and daily life. The assessment tasks will reflect four interrelated goals that provide the basis for communication. These goals are: gaining knowledge of other cultures; connecting with other academic subject areas to acquire knowledge; developing insights into the nature of language and culture through comparisons; and participating in multilingual communities at home and around the world. Performances on assessment tasks will be evaluated using three criteria. The first criterion is the demonstration of how well the student understands (comprehension) and can be understood (comprehensibility). The next criterion is how well the student uses communication strategies, such as asking for clarification or inferring the meaning of unknown words from context, to maintain communication. The final criterion is how well the student applies cultural knowledge to achieve successful communication.

The Next Steps

Throughout November, CAL is inviting comment on the preliminary recommendations, including sample test items, at The project team will also be presenting these recommendations at the late November ACTFL convention in Dallas. During the winter of 1999/2000, the working groups will prepare final recommendations for the assessment framework, specifications for test items, background questions, and reporting strategies.

More Information

The project director at CAL is Dorry Kenyon. Working with Dorry at CAL as associate project directors are Regla Armengol and Nancy Rhodes and, as project assistant, Stephanie Swartz-Zern. For more information, e-mail or call (202) 362-0700, ext. 259. To see who is on the project steering and planning committees, the technical advisory panel, and the partner organization participants, please go to the project website at

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Last Updated: 12/15/99, more information at