Three years ago, the Liverpool Central School District eliminated foreign language, also referred to as Languages Other Than English (LOTE), in seventh grade in order to save money.
The move was a mistake.
Now, as part of his 2013-14 budget proposal, Superintendent Dr. Richard N. Johns is asking the board of education to restore that year.
New York is one of 28 states that requires a foreign language in order to obtain a state diploma. According to the New York State Department of Education, students must earn one LOTE credit before entering ninth grade. This can be done in one of two ways:
Successfully completing two units of study and passing a locally-developed test that is aligned to the state’s “Checkpoint A Learning Standards” prior to grade nine, or
Passing a year-long grade eight accelerated program of study and passing a locally-developed test that is aligned to the same standards.
By eliminating the seventh grade program in the 2010-11 budget, Liverpool moved toward the second option. The cut also did away with 5.4 full-time LOTE teachers. That same year, the state raised the bar for students to meet its Checkpoint A standards. In the past, they just had to pass a state proficiency exam; now they must pass a final exam, as well as the course. This left Liverpool’s students at a deficit, as they now were expected to learn two years’ worth of material in just one.
Prior to the cut, Liverpool had a rigorous curriculum that required 65 grammar points taught within 14 topics required by NYSED. These included listening, speaking, reading, writing and cultural skills. Eliminating seventh-grade LOTE, however, resulted in the removal of 26 of those 65 grammar points. Instead, those had to be taught later (in ninth grade and beyond). As such, program requirements at those levels were eliminated. The time allotted for language acquisition in each unit was cut in half. The end result? Our students were not as well-prepared in foreign languages as their peers from other districts.
Johns’ budget proposal would add the seventh grade program back into the curriculum. Doing so would add back 2.8 foreign language positions, add 25 sections of Level IA foreign language in seventh grade across all three middle schools and require all seventh graders to take a foreign language. This would allow them to meet Checkpoint A standards before entering ninth grade, giving them one high school foreign language credit.
This move would help our students to be more successful in their futures. Foreign languages help students achieve cognitive and emotional maturity, and it helps them to enhance their basic learning, memory and communication skills. Students who start foreign languages earlier are more successful in their academic careers. They score higher on achievement tests like the SAT and ACT and tend to be better at mathematics and synthesizing information.
The human brain is driven by language. That’s why it’s imperative that the 2013-14 budget include seventh grade foreign language.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.