The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

Language students prepare to take national language exams

Scarlett Barnes
Many flags of different countries displayed in the flag lobby.

The National Language Exams are voluntary exams administered by various associations that offer the test to students throughout the nation. This year, the exams will be administered to German, Latin, and Spanish students. The German exams were administered during class time two weeks ago by the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG). The Spanish exams will be administered by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP). The Latin exams will be administered by the National Junior Classical League (NJCL).

Both the Spanish and Latin exams will begin to be administered on March 14th, giving the students a month’s window to take the exam, ending on April 15th. The students’ scores will not be released until the second week in May. 

All the exams differ in type of content and how advanced the content is. When it comes to world languages, students are evaluated on two main parts, proficiency and achievement. Proficiency pertains to skills including speaking, listening, and reading, whereas achievement focuses more on writing and grammar skills. WA mainly focuses on the performance of proficiency based skills.

Not all of the language exams offered or previously offered at Westford Academy will be taken this year, with the main reason being the exams do not currently align with the curriculum or the teachers’ style of teaching. The French exam in particular will not be offered this year due to the differing curriculum. 

“We are teaching for proficiency here in our language classes,” World Language Coordinator Stephanie Grabowski-Devlin said. “We focus on producing spontaneous language production, and not necessarily how well you can string together the sentences that are grammatically accurate.”

Teachers have been pushing students away from taking the French exam in the past due to the fact that if students receive a poor grade back on that exam, it will diminish their self-confidence, not because that student isn’t a high achieving student, but because the exam doesn’t assess the same skills that are taught to students at WA. Many language teachers feel that most of the exams are not good representations of the skills that the students have at each level. 

“Sitting down at a desk and filling in endings doesn’t prove anything when it comes to language,” German teacher Tim Welch said. “It doesn’t push towards the end goal of learning a language, which is being able to successfully communicate.”

Another primary reason teachers are leaning away from administering the exam at all is because the number of students who volunteer to take the exam has steadily decreased over the past ten years. For example, only 100 students are taking the National Spanish Exam this year, which is very little in comparison to the number of students that are currently taking Spanish at WA. 

“Across the board and all of the languages, the number of students who are taking the exam decreases every year,” Grabowski-Devlin said. “I think it has to do with student overload of testing and knowing even though we tell them you don’t have to study for the test, there’s still a certain amount of preparation that goes into it.” 

The AATSP is currently in the process of changing the Spanish exam, and has been rewriting it every year in order to get closer to being the ideal assessment for WA’s curriculum. The French teachers at WA want and are awaiting a similar change so they can give their students the same opportunity. 

The world language classes prioritize the ability to speak and communicate in the language, rather than how grammatically correct or fluent students are. For example, the German classes didn’t do any prior preparation for the exam, as the exam’s purpose was to assess the students current knowledge and spontaneous language production. 

“The only way to really prepare for the exam is to come to German class and speak German,” Welch said. “You acquire vocabulary and skills that way, and the exam assesses your understanding.”

In addition to simply being recognized for their academic achievements in world languages, many of the national language exams offer students special prizes for doing exceedingly well. 

All of the language exams have what is essentially the equivalent of gold, silver, and bronze medals. If you score above a certain percentile in the country for each language, you are awarded either a gold, silver, or bronze medal at a ceremony that takes place after the exam results are released. In German and Latin, students must score in the 90th percentile of the country to receive a gold medal, and in Spanish it is 95th percentile.

In Latin, students who have a score in the 90th percentile at the highest level for four years in a row receive an Ed Phinney Book Award in their senior year, an award given to them by the NJCL, the organization that administers the exam.

The AATSP offers a special medal for those who get a perfect score on the exam, with the distinction of receiving a perfect score displayed on the medal. Last year, junior Sahil Dua earned a perfect score and this medal on the AATSP for Spanish III. 

In German, if students score at the 90th percentile or above on the test, they can apply for the American Association of Teachers of German and Pädagogischer Austauschdienst (AATG/PAD) National German Exam Scholarship. Last year three WA students won this award – sophomore Maggie Burrows, sophomore Brady Burrell, and junior Pravar Mukkala. All three of them won an additional invitation to study abroad in Germany over the summer and stay with a local family. 

“It’s a great opportunity for those who are really interested in learning not only the language but also about the culture.” Welch said.

Not all of the German students who took the exam this year have received their scores, except for three sophomores, Katie Fonden, Anna Driscoll, and Emilie Chen, who received scores making them eligible to apply for the National German Exam Scholarship.

In addition to the National Language Exams, this year the language department is administering the STAMP exam, an exam that students take in their senior year to qualify for the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy Program. 

The National Language Exams offered at Westford Academy not only provide students with a wide range of academic opportunities, but also an opportunity to test and show off their language skills objectively. By participating in these exams, students gain valuable insight into their strengths and areas for improvement, which can guide their journey in learning a language.

“Every single human being on this earth learns a language in some form,” Welch said. “The goal of learning a language isn’t to be completely accurate all the time, but to be able to communicate with others.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Scarlett Barnes
Scarlett Barnes, Staff Writer
Hi! My name is Scarlett Barnes and I’m a sophomore staff writer for the Westford Academy Ghostwriter. This is my first year in journalism. I play sports year round at WA; cross country in the fall, swim and dive in the winter, and track and field in the spring. In my free time I really enjoy going on runs, listening to music, and reading books. I am really looking forward to my first year of journalism and all the new experiences I will make being a part of the Ghostwriter. 

Comments (0)

All WA Ghostwriter Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *