Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Advanced Placement Spanish in Middle School

AP classes are supposed to be college level courses, yet here's a middle school (junior high) offering AP Spanish:

A middle school in Southern California is spending $10,000 a year to teach Advanced Placement Spanish to 35 of its 650 students -- and all but one of them are already fluent in Spanish.

Thirty-four of the kids in the AP class are from Mexico or are the children of Mexican immigrants. They all grew up speaking Spanish at home.

The program -- the only one of its kind in California -- has outraged some critics who say they are concerned that the AP course wastes public resources – including taxpayer dollars – to teach native Spanish speakers how to speak their native language in an American public school...

Lemon Grove principal Ambler Moss says his school is the only middle school in California to implement the AP class, which he believes will boost the students’ confidence because they already have an edge.

It's always about the self-esteem, isn't it?

Well, the concerns about this program are self-evident, so I won't go into them here. But where have I heard the name Lemon Grove before?

Ah yes, I heard it in one of my bilingual/multicultural courses back in the Fall of 2002. According to Wikipedia:

The Lemon Grove Incident was an incident that occurred in 1930 and 1931 in Lemon Grove, California where the local school board attempted to build a separate school for children of Mexican origin...

The landmark lawsuit resulting from the "Lemon Grove Incident" became the first successful school desegregation court decision in the history of the United States...

In the decision, the judge ruled that children of Mexican origin could not be segregated under the laws of the state of California because they were "of the Caucasian race", and that as such, laws allowing the segregation of "Oriental", "Negro", and "Indian" children did not apply.

This Advanced Placement Spanish story indicates that the pendulum in Lemon Grove has swung all the way to the other extreme in the past 78 years.


Unknown said...

Most if not all middle schools have a Spanish class or series so this is just creating an advanced course for those who are capable. If you have a class worth of students who are ready to take AP Calculus and instead say to them you can take algebra again or art your aren't doing the kids a service. Now I see the unreasonable part as the $10,000 a year, but I have no idea where that number came from and what it includes. I would think half of that would cover any text and work books for any class, but if it is only realistic costs and not $1000's of dollars worth of "professional development" like I've seen before then I don't see a problem.

I really don't understand the complaints about GPA and such since they lose any of those benefits by taking it during middle school. If you think taking AP Spanish when you speak Spanish is unnecessary grade inflation then this seems like a way to combat that. In reality if these kid's parents or councilors wanted their children to go to college they would have had them take it in high school anyway where they would have possibly received high grades. The best quote from the article is "A kid who is fluent in Spanish taking an AP class, really it’s kind of redundant." I wonder what that person says to an English speaking student taking English for 13 years straight.

Ellen K said...

There's something more insidious in this. When various certification boards blow through a district, one of the ways a school can gain approval is the number of AP tests taken. In many cases, the test score doesn't matter, just the number of tests taken. A few years ago, the US News and World Report list of best schools came under attack because the calculations they used included this type of ranking. It turns out that in order to look good on paper, a high school principal paid for ALL of his kids to take AP tests. It didn't matter that they failed, all that mattered was they took it. So I can see where a district that has poor math or science scores could use AP classes and testing in much the same way to make the school appear more successful to the beancounters that consider such numbers important.

Anonymous said...

What they'd say is that unless that AP Spanish class imposes the same sorts of demands as the AP English class - not 13 years of English classes - then it's a gimme so the school can both display its multicultural chops and get some easy and reliable "attainment" by the students.

In the new world of educational accountability there'll be some folks who see cooking the books as a better way to deal with demands for improvement then actually doing the more difficult work of educating kids.

Stopped Clock said...

Ellen nailed it; it's not about raising the self-esteem of Mexican students, because how would it? It's about making the school's performance scores look better and probably tied somehow to funding as well.

Ellen K said...

I don't know what certification groups look at California Schools but we have some groups that comes in looking at test scores, demographics, course loads, contact hours, facilities and teaching credentials. Having an AP or IB program on campus is a HUGE bonus. And getting minority students enrolled in such classes is a double bonus. The results have been mixed. Because we are pushing for a more diverse students population in AP, we have many kids who simply will not take the test. We have others who are there in name only because they don't need the credit to graduate, but they can't leave early and they think this looks good on a transcript.

Anonymous said...

If 10K is problematic, do we also think that the tens of thousands is irresponsible for athletics,band, drama etc..?

The hispanic population has the highest drop out rate in the nation, according to some reports. AP classes are one of the best dropout prevention strategies that there is, as students who enroll in such classes almost always finish high school.

It seems, then, that a better question is why aren't we doing this more for that population group? Why not capiatlize on their native fluency and turn a disadvantage into a competive advantage?

The only reason this is even in the news is because it's a middle school. Hispanic students are free to take AP spanish in any high school, just as speakers of numerous other languages can take AP coursework in those languages. So if we are training an at risk populatiuon group upward and setting the bar higher for them at an earlier age, isn't this a good thing?

Darren said...

Advanced Placement classes are supposed to be college level courses. I have a hard time believing that there's a full class of students on any junior high campus that's ready for college level work. If I'm wrong in this case, then there's no issue with what this school is doing. But if I'm right, there are lots of problems--wasting money, watering down curriculum, falsely inflating the students' sense of accomplishment, etc.

Anonymous said...

If they pass the exam with a score of 3, they have achieved college level work.

In Texas, middle school hispanic kids who take this course have a passage rate of 80%. What's hard to believe is that California, which prides itself on being forward thinking, is so far behind Texas in this endeavor. How could there be only one middle school with the vision necessary to pull this off. THAT to me is the big story here.