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Foreign Language

The following process was used to identify standards and benchmarks in foreign language:

Identification of Significant Reports

Seven reports were selected as significant for identifying standards in foreign language learning. Two documents from the National Standards in Foreign Language Education (NSFLE) project were used: Standards for Foreign Language Learning: Preparing for the 21st Century (1996) as well as the April 1995 draft of that work. (In 1999, the NSFLE standards were republished and complemented by nine language-specific standards for Chinese, Classical Languages, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish; however, language and culture specific content is beyond the scope of this study, so this document was not used as a reference source). Other documents that address significant content for this area include ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students (1997) from the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and the College Entrance Examination Board's Articulation & Achievement: Connection Standards, Performance, and Assessment in Foreign Language (1996). Recently, NAEP has made available a pre-publication edition of their Framework for the 2003 Foreign Language National Assessment of Educational Progress. Finally, standards from the state departments of Colorado and Massachusetts provided useful material for content in foreign language learning.

Selection of the Reference Document

The April 1995 draft of Standards for Foreign Language Learning was selected as the reference report. It was selected over the final, published version because in the opinion of the authors it provided a level of specificity more appropriate for the model we have adopted in synthesis. Both the new and draft documents represent the collaborative work of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, the American Association of Teachers of French, the American Association of Teachers of German, and the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.

Identification of Standards and Benchmarks

There are a number of similarities between the Standards draft and the model used to identify standards and benchmarks for this report. First, the sample benchmarks, in a number of cases, provide descriptions of declarative, procedural, or contextual knowledge, which accords with our requirements for a benchmark. Second, the standards statements are stated broadly enough to organize material across grades K-12.

In some ways, however, the Standards material differs from our approach. First, some of the draft benchmarks are broadly stated activities. For example, one benchmark states "students can work in groups to develop and propose solutions to problems that are of contemporary and historical interest in the target culture and in their own" (p. 19). From such descriptions as this it was not possible to extract specific knowledge and skills appropriate for a benchmark. In other cases, this tendency toward vagueness accompanies an emphasis on what we would describe as curriculum rather than content standards. For example, one standard, "Students reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines through the foreign language," contains benchmarks such as "students acquire information from authentic documents about a topic being studied in another class to integrate into activities in the foreign language classroom," and its correlate "students acquire information from authentic documents about a topic being studied in the foreign language classroom to integrate with other school subjects" (p. 32-33). As the rationale statement that accompanies the Standards material makes clear, this standard and its benchmarks are designed to foster the integration of foreign language into the broader curriculum. However worthwhile the goal, the effect of attempting such integration through content standards places new demands on students and teachers that might be unrealistic. For example, it requires that students be responsible for seeing to it that the content in one class is successfully integrated with the content in another. Furthermore, such a standard places special demands on the design of school programs if teachers of a foreign language are to assess whether students have appropriately integrated material from another discipline, or if teachers in a non-foreign language class are to determine whether students have appropriately interpreted and applied material from a foreign language. Since the model we apply defines content standards and benchmarks as descriptions of the specific knowledge and skills students should acquire, such standards and benchmarks as the foregoing were not included in the analysis.

Other topics not included in this analysis are the skills and strategies associated with the language arts. For example, at least two of the foreign language standards documents require that students be engaged in learning strategies of the writing process, such as drafting, editing, and revising. Although such skills are no doubt critical for learning or demonstrating knowledge of a foreign language, incorporating such ideas in the foreign language area would require the duplication of the many skills and strategies associated with the language arts. Our model calls for avoiding such content duplication as much as possible. Readers are therefore directed to our section on the English language arts for a comprehensive listing of appropriate standards and benchmarks.

Finally, our model and the reference document differ concerning the range and number of benchmark levels. The standards document specifies three benchmark levels: K-4, 5-8 and 9-12. Our model recommends four, corresponding to primary, upper elementary, middle, and high school. Unfortunately, no supplementary material was available to remedy this problem. Consequently the material is presented at three levels, K-4, 5-8, and 9-12.

Integration of Information from Other Documents

The 1996 edition of foreign language standards was cited throughout the document, wherever appropriate. Other documents provided supporting material during the revision of the standards and benchmarks. The standards from TESOL were particularly useful for the level of detail provided. The content from the College Entrance Examination Board and the state standards from Massachusetts and Colorado were useful for expanding or confirming content description. Those benchmarks that address knowledge and skills that also appear in the pre-publication draft from the NAEP assessment framework can be identified through an examination of the citation log.