Modern Languages` Report on Changing the Language Proficiency

Department of Modern Languages
The Department of Modern Languages is implementing a number of changes to the way that
fulfillment of the language requirement of the Saint Mary's Core Curriculum is assessed. There
are no changes to the substance of the requirement itself. Changes in assessment strategies for
placement into, and fulfillment of, core requirements are the purview of the department (e.g.,
writing placement and math placement procedures are the responsibility of Composition and
Math, respectively). Given the likely confusion about the changes, however, the Department of
Modern Languages decided to provide this report, which is being shared as a comprehensive
communication plan.
Changes to placement at entrance
It is important to note again that the department has made no changes to the substance of the
language requirement, an endeavor that would fall within the domain of the Core Curriculum
Committee and the Academic Senate. All students are required to achieve intermediate level
proficiency. Unlike the composition or math requirement, there are no language courses
"required" per se; rather, students may demonstrate proficiency in several different ways. The
most common, however, is the successful completion of levels 3 of a particular language.
The primary change is that the department will no longer accept high school language study as a
means of demonstrating proficiency. The review of performance of our students across time
indicates that there is too much variability, inconsistency and instability in high school
performance, grades of record notwithstanding. All students will complete the placement exam at
entrance. The Saint Mary's Catalog (under Program of Study, Language Proficiency p. 53; and
Department of Modern Languages, Foreign Language Placement Exam, p. 163) will be edited to
reflect this change in the spring of 2014. The timeline for implementation is to begin with the
entering class in fall of 2015.
Implications. The department predicts that many of the students who currently meet the
proficiency requirement at entrance will continue to do so. However, there will be others who
will demonstrate a need for further language study. Most likely, this will result in a need for
more sections of level 3 courses, particularly, and perhaps only, in Spanish. Currently, the
department offers Spanish 3 in multiple sections each term, including an evening class, and in
Changes to exit-level proficiency
It is important to note that the requirement continues to be the achievement of intermediate-level
proficiency, and that students may need 0-3 courses to achieve this level. Also, the department
will continue to use final semester grades achieved in levels 1, 2, and/or 3 as the means through
which students demonstrate intermediate-level proficiency and satisfy the requirement.
However, the department is implementing processes for regular proficiency testing of all
students at level 3. The purpose of this testing is to have regular and consistent data on the
language proficiency of our students, in keeping with expectations of all areas of the Saint
Mary’s Core Curriculum.
Communication plan
A convergence of factors led to these changes. First, as part of the Saint Mary's Core Curriculum,
the department seeks means to align the requirement within the developmental and integrated
nature of the core, in both its more historical features and its more contemporary representation.
Language study has been and continues to be critical for the habits of mind of a liberal education.
It also has particular relevance in the more current "engaging the world” and “global
perspectives" that we now ask all undergraduates to explore. The department's primary aim in
undertaking this task is to comply with our responsibility to the core, thus assuring that students
are achieving institutional expectations that we hold and uphold collectively.
Second, the department just completed its regular program review process, including broad
discussions on the goals, outcomes, strengths, and weaknesses of the lower division language
requirement, within and across languages. The conversations about the language requirement
parallel the work that has been done regarding other aspects of the core, including the rethinking
of Collegiate Seminar and the revision of many prior courses in the “area” requirements into the
categories that are now “ways of knowing.” These reviews of what and how we teach, and how
well our students progress and why, are essential elements of our own campus-wide commitment
to excellence in liberal education. The Department of Modern Languages embraces its own
review in this similar vein. Thus far, the curriculum of Spanish levels 1 through 3 has been
changed, and new materials introduced. In most of the six language programs, we now also
integrate multimedia as a regular part of the pedagogy.
Third, as Saint Mary's begins widespread conversations on assessment and assurance of learning
across programs and curricula, the department has begun to rethink its exit proficiency testing.
Last year, two faculty members sought and received grants from the Office of Educational
Effectiveness in this area. Moreover, the Spanish faculty began a process of full review of lower
and upper division curriculum for the language requirement, the minor, and the major. The
department is seeking another assessment grant this year to formalize its pilot work in exit
proficiency testing for all students at the end of the language requirement, including such tasks as
reviewing the online placement test, considering means of assessing cultural knowledge, and
training (or updating) faculty on the standards of proficiency of the American Council on the
Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), whose levels of proficiency serve as the underpinning
for our core requirement that all students demonstrate “intermediate level proficiency.”
This report is being shared with appropriate committes, administrators, and staff across campus.
These include the academic deans of the undergraduate division, the Vice Provost for
Undergraduate Academics, the Office of Admission, the Office of Advising; the Registrar; the
committees charged with orientation, new student programming and first year advising; the
undergraduate chairs and directors; and the faculty at large.
The department appreciates input and advice from our faculty and staff colleagues as we
implement these changes to placement and assessment.
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