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Spanish for Native Speakers (SNS) Education: The State of the Field

Overview

A six-week summer institute, “Building the Knowledge and Expertise of Teachers of Spanish to Heritage Spanish Speakers,” funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), was held at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) June 26 to August 4, 2000. Thirty middle and high school Spanish teachers from across the United States participated in the institute, which was sponsored by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) and the UCLA National Heritage Language Resource Center .

On the first day of the institute, the participants were asked to share their knowledge and understanding of the current conditions in Spanish for Native Speakers (SNS) education in American schools. Participants were divided into six groups, and each group addressed one of the following issues:

1. Benefits of SNS education to students, schools, communities, and the nation
2. Characteristics of heritage language students
3. Teacher qualifications and training
4. Program design
5. Assessment
6. Policy

Over the subsequent weeks, the groups expanded and modified their writings as new information became available from the institute lectures, readings, and continued exchange of information among themselves. The results of their efforts are presented here.

In this paper, the participants collectively present their perspectives on the state of this important and emerging field. The paper begins with a list of recommendations for future action by other teachers of SNS, teacher educators, materials and test developers, school administrators, and state and national offices of education. It then addresses each of the six issues mentioned above.

This document is not presented as a formal academic paper, but rather as a work in progress. It is presented as a statement of how this field is viewed by its most important professionals-the teachers of Spanish to heritage Spanish speakers.

We are grateful to NEH for making this project possible and particularly to Tom Adams, our NEH project officer, for providing valuable insights and guidance throughout the 2000 summer institute.

Credits

Project Director, Joy Kreeft Peyton, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC
Institute Director, Russ N. Campbell, Language Resource Program, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA

Authors (Participating SNS Teachers)
Jeanette Arnhart, Oakdale Junior High School, Rogers, Arkansas
Sandra Arnold, Palisades Charter High School, Pacific Palisades, California
Graciela Bravo-Black, Sunnyside High School, Sunnyside, Washington
Yolanda Cortez, Sholes Middle School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Sharla R. Dobson, Portsmouth High School, Portsmouth, Rhode Island
María del Carmen García, Woodrow Wilson High School, Long Beach, California
Virginia Haase, Plainfield School, Des Plaines, Illinois
David Philip Hanes, Los Angeles High School, Los Angeles, California
Christy Hargesheimer, Lincoln High School, Lincoln, Nebraska
Marilyn Hernández, Julius West Middle School, Rockville, Maryland
Roberto Jiménez, Holy Cross School, New Orleans, Louisiana
Michael Kraus, Western Oaks Middle School, Bethany, Oklahoma
Louis Lillard, Clewiston High School, Clewiston, Florida
Aurora Martínez, John C. Fremont High School, Los Angeles, California
Enrique Nárez, Rialto High School, Rialto, California
Nancy Neel, Jefferson Middle School, Oceanside, California
Lori Nelson, USC/MaST High School, Los Angeles, California
Rossnilda Oliveras, Boone High School, Orlando, Florida
Claudia Ossorio, Thomas Jefferson High School, Los Angeles, California
María Pérez-Tapia, James Monroe High School, North Hills, California
Cynthia Azucena Quintero, Mira Costa High School, Manhattan Beach, California
Analuz Ramírez-Palomo, Torrey Pines High School, Encinitas, California
Heriberto Ríos, Woodrow Wilson Classical High School, Long Beach, California
Adán Rodríguez, Pasco High School, Pasco, Washington
Norma Cervantes Sharpe, Mabton Junior-Senior High School, Mabton, Washington
Sheryl Singh, Hall Elementary School, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Pamela Snyman, Okanogan School District, Okanogan, Washington
Ed Stering, Mercy High School, San Francisco, California
Judi B. Turner, John Marshall High School, Los Angeles, California
Isabel Vázquez-Gil, Silver Spring International Middle School, Silver Spring, Maryland

Edited by Lynn Fischer, Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC.

 

Promoting a Language Proficient Society
Recommendations

Language Needs

1. Teachers’ concepts of foreign language instruction need to be expanded to take into account and be responsive to the needs of heritage speakers of the language taught (in this case, Spanish).

2. School staff should be aware of the language needs in the United States: the importance of heritage language maintenance and the political action to bring this about.

3. The education of bilingual and bicultural individuals needs to be based on an “additive” approach (building on the language and social skills that already exist) rather than the current wide-spread “subtractive” model, which replaces native language competence with English.

Programs

4. School-wide policies should be established to provide appropriate academic recognition or credit to students for SNS courses at all levels. (Credits granted will vary from state to state.)

5. Guidelines for Spanish language program evaluation should be drawn up by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) and distributed for consideration by professionals in the field.

Instruction

6. Heritage language instruction should place language learning within a meaningful context that prepares individuals to succeed in the home, society, and the workplace.

7. Interdisciplinary subjects need to emphasize heritage language in such areas as literary traditions, history, political developments, art, music, philosophy, economics, the sciences, technology, international business and diplomacy, and religion.

Assessment

8. Each school or school district should acquire or develop a placement exam that is appropriate for the students in its SNS program.

9. SNS programs’ staff should be involved in the development of assessment instruments that measure language acquisition in line with the national foreign language standards and other relevant criteria.

10. Achievement tests in Spanish should be developed so that SNS programs throughout the nation can demonstrate what students are learning.

Teacher Preparation

11. There should be at least one course in every language teacher preparation program that teaches SNS philosophies and methods.

Policy and Advocacy

12. Action should be taken to influence national leaders to formulate policies that preserve the nation’s language resources, encourage the study of second languages, and provide resources for bilingual or multilingual language proficiency. An articulated national policy should serve as the template for state and local policies

13. Organizations such as AATSP, ACTFL, and the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) should organize to jointly promote SNS goals and instruction, to disseminate information about SNS education, and to conduct research and projects such as the following:

  • Contact each state to determine its current status of SNS instruction.
  • Work with clearinghouses such as the ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics (ERIC/CLL) and the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education (NCBE) to publish, through their Web sites, state profiles and syllabi used at all levels of SNS instruction.
  • Disseminate grant information that is appropriate for SNS programs.
  • Maintain chat rooms or listservs for SNS teachers and researchers.

The State of the Field of Spanish for Native Speakers (SNS) Education

Introduction

Our present and future economic security depends on our ability as a nation to communicate effectively with potential business partners, customers, and competitors around the world. Our success in the global marketplace is directly related to our ability to understand, appreciate, value, and work within foreign cultures, differing sets of social customs, diverse economic contexts, and varied political systems. The colleges and universities that prosper in the future are those that will, among other things, focus foreign language curricula on the needs of students specializing in business and other professions, while modifying their business and professional courses and programs to include foreign languages, international perspectives, and cross-cultural content. (McGroarty, 1997)

As McGroarty points out, proficiency in languages other than English and knowledge of other cultures is critical to our success as a nation in terms of national defense, international diplomacy and business, and cross-cultural understanding. In addition to improving the number and quality of foreign language programs to achieve these purposes, we need to build on the linguistic abilities and cultural knowledge of a large and growing portion of our population who already have a foundation on which to build-heritage language speakers.

One of the basic responsibilities of our schools is to provide students with the understanding and knowledge needed to succeed in the community and the workplace. Schools should also help students form emotional connections and allegiances to the broader society. In the case of heritage language speakers, this involves teaching a body of concepts and central works of history, literature, science, mathematics, civics, and drama to broaden their already developed sense of tradition and heritage.

In this paper, we describe the state of the field of Spanish for Native Speakers (SNS) education. The paper is divided into six sections: benefits of SNS education, characteristics of SNS students, teacher qualifications and training, program design, assessment, and policy. At the end of each section, we recommend actions to be taken in that area.

Part 1: Benefits of SNS Education

Knowing two languages (in this case, Spanish and English) benefits students, their schools, their communities, and the nation.

Benefits to students

Heritage language students benefit from instruction in their native language. In some cases, literacy is achieved more quickly and completely when taught first in a student’s native language. Literacy skills acquired in the native language can then transfer to English. Children, whose personal sense of identity and worth develop in the formative years, strive to be accepted and valued by society, whether or not they speak English. Those who enter school speaking another language can maintain their sense of identity if they are given the opportunity to retain knowledge of their first language and culture through heritage language instruction while learning English.

As students mature and reach high school, another benefit of SNS education comes to light: Business and professional opportunities are increasingly available to individuals who are bilingual.
Benefits to schools

In schools with a multicultural student population, students who are bilingual and comfortable in more than one culture can promote cross-cultural understanding and tolerance. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence indicates that Spanish speakers in SNS programs are more successful than those not in SNS programs in passing the Advanced Placement Spanish Exam, the Golden State Exam, and in qualifying for the language requirements of the International Baccalaureate Degree. High scores on these exams bring prestige and recognition to schools.

When Spanish-speaking students are placed in middle and high school foreign language Spanish classes and the language skills that they already have are not recognized or developed, they often become bored or frustrated and discontinue their Spanish studies after the first or second year. Important language and cultural resources are lost as a result. Schools that provide appropriate instruction for their Spanish-speaking students strengthen the schools’ language programs for all students.

Benefits to the community

When speakers of languages other than English have opportunities to develop their heritage languages, they become valuable members of their communities, and the communities benefit. Economic prosperity is one outcome. A local economy that includes businesses selling foreign food products and cultural items, restaurants offering international cuisines, and ethnic groups holding traditional festivals, flourishes. This positive impact on the community’s economy creates new job opportunities, lower levels of unemployment, and fewer welfare recipients.

A community that supports multilingualism and multiculturalism projects a unified image and promotes pride and a positive sense of identity among its members. This can contribute to less crime as well as to community solidarity and cultural maintenance.

Increases in academic success result in more professionals returning to their community to develop and share resources. More businesses are created, and more money stays within the community. Consequently, schools improve because they garner higher funding from within the community.

Benefits to the nation

An increase in trade with countries in the southern hemisphere has created a huge market for bilingual executives and technical workers who can bridge cultural differences (Kraul, 2000).

The globalism of the 21st century is forcing the United States to think and conduct business in more than one language. We can no longer afford to think monolingually. As Guadalupe Valdés (2000) states,

In the face of change and economic difficulties, the United States is in the process of what Nunberg (1992) has termed “reimagining” its national identity. Where in the past what was thought to hold the United States together was the democratic principles under which it was founded, now the country is moving into a period in which cultural bonds are more important. (p. 4)

If Spanish-speaking students are encouraged to maintain their heritage language and to pursue professions in which those skills are needed, the United States as a nation and a people will benefit from the biculturalism and bilingualism that these individuals have to offer. However, “little attention has been given to developing and coordinating well designed and carefully articulated foreign language programs for heritage language students” (Campbell & Peyton, 1998, p. 38). As a result, there is a severe shortage of bilingual persons in many fields, most distinctly in the fields of medicine, business, and education. “Deficiency in language and cross-cultural skills exist in certain professions, and these deficiencies directly affect economic results for American professionals and professions” (Brecht & Rivers, 2000, p. 109). There is a shortage specifically of professionals who function effectively in Spanish.

In the environment of global economic expansion and world economy, our lack of bilingual professionals is forcing American multinationals to recruit from outside the United States. Numerous multinational companies from Europe and elsewhere are recruiting from the same talent pool, making the competition fierce and the possibilities of recruitment almost impossible. If, on the other hand, our schools nurture the heritage languages of students, the American nation will develop its own qualified pool of bilingual and bicultural professionals.

The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the European Union have opened up foreign trade. As more economic borders are eliminated, more bilingual and bicultural professionals will be needed. Brecht and Rivers (2000) note the following:

International trade, specifically exports, which constituted a small fraction of the gross domestic product of the United States in the early 1960s, now represents a major driving force in this country’s economy. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and World Trade Organization (WTO) are now in place, and American participation is growing through other agreements touching the Western Hemisphere (such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas) and the Pacific Rim (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation). Language is a major consideration in all these free trade agreements where even a seemingly obvious issue such as the languages used in product labeling must be negotiated and prescribed. (p. 10)

Recommendations

1. Teachers’ concepts of foreign language instruction need to be expanded to take into account and be responsive to the needs of heritage speakers of the language taught (in this case, Spanish).

2. School staff should be aware of the language needs in the United States-the importance of heritage language maintenance and the political action to bring this about.

3. The education of bilingual and bicultural individuals needs to be based on an “additive” approach (building on the language and social skills that already exist) rather than the current wide-spread “subtractive” model, which replaces native language competence with English.

Part 2: Characteristics of Heritage Language Students

A native or heritage language is the language one acquires first in life. Guadalupe Valdés (2000) states,

Within the foreign language teaching profession in the United States, the term “heritage speaker” is used to refer to a student of language who is raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken, who speaks or merely understands the heritage language, and who is to some degree bilingual in English and the heritage language.… For the most part, the experiences of these heritage speakers have been similar. They speak or hear the heritage language spoken at home, but they receive all of their education in the official or majority language of the countries in which they live. What this means is that, in general, such students receive no instruction in the heritage language. They thus become literate only in the majority language. (p. 1)

There are several types of native or heritage language speakers:

  • Diglossic bilinguals use either language depending on the context.
  • Proficient bilinguals speak both languages, although they may not be biliterate.
  • Passive bilinguals understand the language audibly but do not speak it.
  • Covert bilinguals, due to sociolinguistic factors, refuse to use the language and insist on not understanding it.

Most heritage language students in the United States come from low-income families. Parents often work two jobs, which prevents them from being fully involved in their children’s education. The parents tend to work in blue-collar occupations, hard labor, or agriculture where they may migrate seasonally from region to region. This results in a scattered and incomplete education for their children. In spite of the fact that within the family structure education is highly valued and praised, students often need to work to help the family economically, thereby finding it difficult to participate in activities and organizations that could lead to more academic options.

The U.S. heritage Spanish student population is diverse. In the Southwest, most Spanish speakers are from Mexico; however, since the 1980s a new wave of immigrants from Central American countries-El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua-has moved to the southwestern states. The Midwest has been experiencing a similar trend, as immigrants come directly from Central America, and Central American migrants move there from states such as California and Texas. The East has also seen changes, with more immigrants arriving recently from Central America, while they traditionally came from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.

Spanish-speaking students are often placed in remedial track programs in school, preventing them from receiving a college-preparatory education (Ruiz-de-Velasco & Fix, 2000). Remedial track programs often fail to take into account language and sociolinguistic factors that affect students’ learning. Furthermore, these programs do not always have practitioners with linguistic backgrounds to fully address students’ social, psychological, and linguistic needs.

Due to complex political, social, and linguistic factors, heritage speakers’ academic needs are not being met. This results in lack of motivation; low academic achievement; absenteeism; behavioral issues at school; a high percentage of dropouts; and the perpetuation of poverty, disillusionment, and overall disconnection from mainstream society. In order to break this trend of academic failure among Spanish-speaking students, the following recommendations are made:

Recommendations

1. Placement tests need to be developed by schools or school districts so that Spanish speakers are placed in the appropriate level Spanish class.

2. Specialists in the field of linguistics should determine whether heritage speakers placed in remedial tracks have been placed correctly.

3. An interdisciplinary curriculum of Spanish for heritage speakers needs to be designed to help students expand their proficiency in Spanish and to help them transfer those skills to English and other subjects so that they become fully bilingual and biliterate.

4. Parent-teacher-counselor guidance teams need to be established to inform students and parents about the academic process and opportunities that lead to a college education.

5. "Language academies" should be developed within the school system to foster and strengthen language skills among all students. Parents and teachers can be encouraged and supported to lead the groups, and heritage-speaking students can act as peer tutors.

6. Parents, teachers, and community members should be encouraged to seek ways to better serve the needs of Spanish-speaking youth in a manner that reflects equity, respect, and mutual understanding.

Part 3: Teacher Qualifications and Training

Teachers of heritage Spanish speakers differ widely in terms of qualifications, training, and language proficiency. Because the teaching of Spanish to heritage Spanish speakers is a newly recognized field, universities and school districts have yet to establish standards for teacher preparation. As a result, the qualifications of those currently teaching SNS range from noncertified heritage speakers, to certified Spanish as a second language teachers, to certified bilingual teachers who may be either heritage or nonheritage speakers of Spanish. School district requirements range from none to requiring bilingual certification.

In an informal survey taken by the SNS teachers attending the NEH summer institute, only one state was identified as having requirements for SNS teachers; no state was identified as having standards for SNS teachers. Washington state will soon require a Spanish proficiency test for all K-12 Spanish language teachers. One implication of this requirement, however, is that the language teacher shortage may increase, making it even more difficult to sustain SNS classes. California and a few other states require high school Spanish teachers to demonstrate Spanish language proficiency and knowledge of pedagogy through the foreign language Praxis Exam, but the exam is not SNS-specific.

Preservice training

Preservice SNS teacher training is almost nonexistent. Even in states with large heritage student populations, there is a lack of pedagogical training geared specifically toward heritage language learners and their special needs. Methodology courses for teaching Spanish as a foreign language are assumed adequate for teaching heritage Spanish speakers. To our knowledge, there are no existing specialization certificates (endorsements) for teachers of Spanish to native speakers.

In-service training

Currently, SNS teachers learn to teach “on the job,” often in isolation from colleagues in the same field. Teachers who are motivated to learn more must be resourceful and determined in their search for in-service workshops and institutes.

Limited in-service training for SNS teachers exists through conferences held by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP), the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), and some state affiliates. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and New Mexico State University offer summer institutes, as well as the LA Stars program and Stanford University’s advanced placement institute, which has been helpful for those who teach advanced levels of SNS.

ACTFL and the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Hunter College in New York City collaborated on a 3-year project, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), to establish a training program to prepare teachers to work more effectively with heritage language students. The project provided SNS teachers a forum where they could share their practical expertise and provide insight into how teachers should be trained in order to work effectively in the SNS classroom. The teachers were an integral part of the team that implemented the resulting SNS teacher training program, which will be part of the undergraduate and graduate certification programs at Hunter College. Also resulting from the project was the publication Teaching Heritage Language Learners: Voices From the Classroom (Webb & Miller, Eds., ACTFL Foreign Language Series, 2000).

Resources for teachers

Because institutions of higher learning have yet to embrace this discipline, resources are difficult to obtain. Fortunately, within the past few years more information is gradually becoming available. Teachers can now access information via the Internet and through designated electronic discussion groups, such as FLTEACH and SNS-L. The ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics www.cal.org/resources/archive/rgos/sns.html and the Center for Applied Linguistics www.cal.org/heritage are two examples of Web sites that post timely information and resources on heritage language teaching.

Recent books include La enseñanza del español a hispanohablantes: Praxis y teoría, by Colombi and Alarcón (Houghton Mifflin, 1997); Spanish for Native Speakers, Volume I of the Professional Development Series Handbook for Teachers K-12 (AATSP, 2000); and Palabra Abierta, by Colombi, Pellettieri, and Rodríguez (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). Other resources are “Heritage Language Students: A Valuable Language Resource,” by Campbell and Peyton (ERIC Review, Vol. 6, Issue 1, Fall 1998) and Spanish for Native Speakers: Developing Dual Language Proficiency, by Lewelling and Peyton (ERIC Digest, May 1999). Professional journals, such as Hispania and Foreign Language Annals, publish articles relevant to heritage language practitioners.

Teachers of heritage speakers often have to rely on knowledge and techniques acquired through their own experiences, their own resourcefulness, and trial and error. Through these means, however, they have achieved success and are creating a strong foundation upon which institutions of higher learning can build. Today’s teachers have a unique opportunity to help shape the future of this emerging field, which is a challenge that many welcome with enthusiasm.

Recommendations

1. Provide state and district policy makers and university departments of education with knowledge of the distinctions between first language and second language development.

2. There should be at least one course in every language teacher preparation program that teaches SNS philosophies and methods.

3. Courses on SNS philosophies and methods should lead to an endorsement specifically for teaching SNS, in addition to one for teaching Spanish as a second or foreign language. Courses should include Chicano studies, Latino culture, and language arts methods.

4. A language major that combines interpreting/translating and SNS teaching methods should be considered by colleges and universities.

5. States should establish a credential program for SNS teachers.

6. SNS teachers need ongoing training provided by district programs and professional organizations such as ACTFL and AATSP.

Part 4: Program Design

Program models, curricula development, and instructional materials for SNS education are limited. Currently, schools rely heavily on teachers’ abilities to design and develop their own SNS courses. Critical to the learning of any language are the development of listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills, including vocabulary and grammar. Knowledge of literature, culture, and history is also important.

Listening. Because most public schools are not well equipped with language labs, listening comprehension is usually taught by using tape-recorded segments that accompany published texts. Tape segments need to reflect the language varieties and cultures of heritage Spanish speakers in the United States.

Speaking. Teaching oral skills should include such activities as peer interviews, oral book reports, and student discussions of current events and issues, all of which involve various registers of discourse.

Reading. Reading both native and non-native Spanish writers helps to develop good reading skills. Literature serves as a model of standard Spanish; selections are used to build vocabulary and reinforce grammar points. By reading literary passages, SNS students become familiar with literary terms and different genres. Culture and history are also taught through literature.

Writing. Writing instruction consists of basic paragraph development, essay writing, guided compositions, and journal writing.

Articulation structures are highly desirable but often nonexistent or inconsistent in school systems throughout the nation. Vertical articulation is needed to connect elementary, middle, and high schools; horizontal articulation is needed to connect subject disciplines. Both vertical and horizontal articulation are important in language learning.

The availability of SNS-specific materials is still limited, and standards for SNS instructional materials are not evident. Recently, however, several textbook companies have developed materials and technology, including CD-ROMs and software programs, that are usable in the SNS classroom.

Recommendations

1. Heritage language instruction should place language learning within a meaningful context that prepares individuals to succeed in the home, the workplace, and society. Therefore, school districts and SNS teachers need to develop new curricula that meet the needs of SNS students, foster their self-esteem, and prepare them for the demands of our multicultural and global society.

2. Heritage language instruction needs to be combined with other fields of study-such as literature, history, political science, art, music, philosophy, economics, the sciences, technology, international business and diplomacy, and religion-to create a more interdisciplinary approach to teaching.

3. Schools should establish articulation structures to connect SNS instruction from the elementary grades through high school.

4. School-wide policies should be established to provide appropriate academic recognition or credit for SNS courses at all levels. (Credits granted will vary from state to state.)

5. States must set standards for SNS curricula based on high academic goals and excellent classroom practices.

6. State standards for SNS instructional materials must also be set. Standards should contain SNS teacher input and development and be field tested in SNS classrooms in California, Florida, and other states with large SNS populations.

7. SNS teachers should visit schools with active SNS programs and establish and maintain relationships with other SNS teachers.

8. SNS teachers must advocate for SNS programs with a collective and unified voice.

Part 5: Assessment

Assessment includes diagnostic, placement, and achievement testing, which can contribute to program evaluation. The assessment practices of SNS programs range from no formal assessment to carefully kept records of student performance on all national and state exams.

Diagnostic testing

Diagnostic testing of the Spanish language skills of Spanish speakers (listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing) is rare. The tests that are used are geared toward bilingual education rather than SNS. The Woodcock-Muñoz test has listening, grammar, and reading portions and rates students at five different levels and identifies students by language dominance and proficiency. It is used to identify students who need instruction in English but can also be sued to gauge Spanish proficiency. Another comprehensive exam is the Language Assessment Scale (LAS). The results place a student at one of five levels, the fifth designating that the student may be mainstreamed. Although both tests are objective, neither is designed for SNS diagnostic assessment.

Placement testing

Placement in SNS courses is accomplished through a variety of procedures and testing instruments. Most schools do not use a formal test. Many schools place SNS students with an oral interview only, or the students’ parents may be interviewed by phone. Placing students in an SNS class based on their Spanish surname and student self-selection (the student chooses to be in an SNS class without the benefit of a test that indicates readiness) are examples of poor placement procedures. However, SNS-specific placement instruments do exist. One is Prueba de ubicación para hispanohablantes, developed by Ricardo Otheguy and Ofelia Garcia. A locally revised version of the Advanced Placement Exam is also used at some locations. (It is generally recognized that placement exams should be tailored to the program at a given school.) For more information on placement tests and a list of available placement tests, see Spanish for Native Speakers, Volume I of the Professional Development Series Handbook for Teachers K-12 (AATSP, 2000).

Achievement testing

The most widely administered examination of achievement in SNS programs is the Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish Language Exam. This instrument measures a student’s mastery of listening, speaking, reading, writing, and grammar. Students with high scores can receive college credit. Less frequently, SNS programs prepare students for the Advanced Placement Spanish Literature Exam. The College Board has two versions of the Scholastic Assessment Test II (SAT) in Spanish: multiple-choice and multiple-choice with listening. The Pacesetters Exam and the International Baccalaureate Exam are also used; the latter gives college credit for high scores. In California, the Spanish for Spanish Speakers Golden State Exam was given for the first time to intermediate students in the spring of 2000. In Maryland middle schools, SNS students are given a test for which they may receive high school credit.

Program evaluation

Outcomes on assessments are an important part of program evaluation and may be required when federal funding is received. However, few schools have implemented a rigorous system to document student progress and program success. At most, records are kept of the number of students who take the Spanish AP exam, the number who pass the exam, and the number who take the SAT II Spanish Exam.

Tests that allow comparison of scores across the nation are the Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish Language Exam and the College Board. The College Board distinguishes between foreign language Spanish students and SNS students in the statistics they generate.

Recommendations

1. SNS programs’ staff should be involved in the development of assessment instruments that measure language acquisition in line with the national foreign language standards and other relevant criteria.

2. Achievement tests in Spanish should be developed so that SNS programs throughout the nation can demonstrate what students are learning.

3. Guidelines for Spanish language program evaluation should be drawn up by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP) and distributed for consideration by professionals in the field.

Part 6: Policy

Educational policy for the instruction of heritage languages is poorly defined, vague, or borrowed from foreign language instructional policy.

At the national level, educational policy that directly addresses the instruction of heritage speakers in language classes does not exist. In April 2000, President Clinton published a formal statement about international educational policy recognizing the importance of proficiency in foreign languages for all U.S. citizens. Nothing was stated, however, about fostering heritage language development.

Nonetheless, there are indirect policies that help shape SNS instruction. First among these are federal guidelines and their corresponding funds that aid in the instruction of ESL, bilingual education, and language immersion programs. These federal funds and guidelines assist school districts to comply with federal legislation requiring the education of every student. National programs such as Fulbright-Hays and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) also provide funds for specialized programs that provide indirect support for SNS programs.

Among the private organizations that attempt to influence national policy for both heritage and foreign language instruction are the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), Joint National Committee on Languages (JNCL), American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP), and National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE). As a result of their work, there is increased awareness among practitioners of national language policies. ACTFL, for instance, has developed national standards for foreign language and SNS instruction, and it advocates adoption of these national standards at the federal and state levels. There are also organizations that advocate against the adoption of heritage language policy. English Language Advocates, for example, has promoted adoption of English Only amendments.

State-level policies vary greatly. Many states do not have a well detailed plan for foreign language instruction, much less for SNS instruction, especially at the elementary level. Many states and state-affiliated institutions of higher learning require completion of a 2-year foreign language course at the secondary level. Some states are moving toward language proficiency tests for instructors at all levels (K-16+) in ESL, bilingual education, and foreign language certification. State policies for SNS instruction are generally vague. Policies that inhibit the development of SNS programs include those that have adopted English Only amendments. Sentiments against the development of non-English languages in states with high populations of non-English speaking immigrants and residents (such as California) also inhibit program development.

District policies vary also. Some districts may not observe state policy; others make modifications in order to address local needs. Examples of district policies include those that encourage classes for heritage speakers, ESL, bilingual education, and two-way immersion.

Individual schools’ policies are as varied as their principals, counselors, and teachers. Many schools simply have not addressed the issue of SNS policy and do not offer SNS courses, even when the need is evident. Other schools adapt district policy (when it exists) to meet their own needs. The size of the school and its demographics are important variables when deciding whether or not a particular school site will provide special classes or assistance for heritage language speakers. Teachers often have little time or energy to stay aware of trends in policy or to advocate for specific policies. Clearly, there is a need to define SNS policy even at the school level.

Recommendations

1. Action should be taken to influence national leaders to formulate policies that preserve the nation’s language resources, encourage the study of second languages, and provide resources for bilingual or multilingual language proficiency. An articulated national policy should serve as the template for state and local policies.

2. Organizations such as AATSP, ACTFL, and NABE should organize to jointly promote SNS goals and instruction, to disseminate information about SNS education, and to conduct research and projects such as the following:

  • Contact each state to determine its current status of SNS instruction.
  • Work with clearinghouses such as the ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics (ERIC/CLL) and the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education (NCBE) to publish, through their Web sites, state profiles and syllabi used at all levels of SNS instruction.
  • Disseminate grant information that is appropriate for SNS programs.
  • Maintain chat rooms or listservs for SNS teachers and researchers.

3. Heritage languages other than English should be studied, encouraged, and required at both the primary and secondary levels, and reasonable demonstration of mastery should meet requirements for foreign language study.

4. Foreign language study should be required for native English speakers at the primary and secondary school levels.

5. SNS/heritage language study should result in credit for foreign language requirements.

6. Separate language classes should be offered for heritage language speakers, especially at the secondary level, where need can be demonstrated. Further, in those locales where there are low populations of SNS students, school districts should allow for independent study or tutoring.

Conclusion

As Brecht and Rivers (2000) state, this nation faces unprecedented challenges in meeting its language needs. Heritage language speakers comprise a large and growing segment of the U.S. population. We need to put into place the policies, programs, curricula, assessments, and instructional strategies needed to develop the heritage language proficiencies of those whose native language is other than English and to prepare and empower teachers to work with them.

References

Brecht, R.D., & Rivers, W.P. (2000). Language and national security in the 21st century: The role of Title VI/Fulbright-Hays in supporting national language capacity. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Campbell, R., & Peyton, J.K. (1998, Fall). Heritage language students: A valuable language resource. ERIC Review, 6(1), 38-39.

Kraul, C. (2000, June 25). Latino talent pinch hobbling U.S. firms’ expansion plans. The Los Angeles Times.

McGroarty, M. (1997). Language policy in the United States: National values, local loyalties, pragmatic pressures. In W. Eggington & H. Wren (Eds.), Language policy: Dominant English and pluralist challenges (pp. 67-90). Canberra, Australia: John Benjamin.

Valdés, G. (2000). Introduction. In American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (Ed.), Professional development series handbook for teachers K-16: Vol. 1. Spanish for native speakers (pp. 1-20). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt College.

Published: 6/11/01
Updated: 6/16/07

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