Aspen schools consider changes to foreign language curriculum
Ryan Summerlin April 12, 2013
ASPEN – The Aspen School District is considering changes to its world-languages program in an effort to improve the proficiency level of graduating students. But to do so, the district might scale back the course of study offered at the lower grade levels.
“In order to achieve these proficiency levels, the administration and the K-12 world languages teachers are using a process known as backward mapping in conjunction with the latest research,” said Aspen Superintendent John Maloy. “As a result, changes in the world-languages programs will more than likely occur at the K-5 grade levels in order to assist the teachers and the schools in attaining these higher levels of student performances.”
The district’s world-languages program – which includes Spanish at all the schools and Spanish and French at the middle and high schools – has been a topic of conversation for the past 18 months. The school board has held three work sessions on the subject, and a public communication forum that focused on foreign-language instruction took place last spring.
“The discussion is definitely still ongoing,” said school board President Charla Belinski, adding that “while student achievement in foreign language is definitely hitting the bar set by the district, we began to wonder if we could set the bar higher so students would exit Aspen High School with greater proficiency yet without increasing the graduation requirement.”
Currently, Aspen Elementary School students take Spanish once in a six-day rotation; fifth-graders take a semester of Spanish and a semester of French, choosing one of these languages to study from sixth grade on, with at least two years required at the high school level.
A memo presented to the Aspen Board of Education on Monday outlined two different plans for the district’s world-languages program. Option A would have students in kindergarten through third grade in six-day rotation of both Spanish and French; fourth-graders would take a semester of each language with instruction every day; and, in fifth grade, students would begin year-round studies in the language of their choice. Option B would eliminate foreign language for students in kindergarten through third grade altogether; rather, they would have more time in their other “specials” like art, music and physical education. In fourth grade, students would follow the same course of study as presented in Option B.
Both options would meet the district’s goal of having students leave fourth grade at a “novice-low level” as defined by the Colorado Department of Education and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. The goal for students graduating eighth grade is “novice-mid level,” and high school students in the traditional program would achieve “intermediate-low level,” while International Baccalaureate students would graduate at “intermediate-mid level.”
While both options were discussed at Monday’s meeting, no decision was made. Maloy said district administrators and the world-language teachers will introduce a plan of action at the next school board meeting; the goal is to move the process forward for the 2013-14 school year.