• World Languages Program Models for K-8

    Developing Proficiency & Meeting the High School Graduation Requirement

    Why start world language programs in K-8? 

    Beyond all the reasons due to our increasingly interconnected world, there are several practical reasons to start world language instruction at the earliest grades possible. These include: 1) academic, cognitive, and social benefits; 2) length of time to meet proficiency expectations; and 3) satisfying the 2011 graduation requirements.

    1. Benefits
    In addition to developing a lifelong ability to communicate with more people, children derive other benefits from early language instruction, including improved overall school performance and superior problem-solving skills. Research has shown that children who have studied a world language in elementary school achieve higher scores on standardized tests in reading, language arts, and mathematics than those who have not (Masciantonio, Rafferty). The results of the Louisiana Report on world language and basic skills (Rafferty) show that regardless of their race, sex, or academic level, students in world language classes outperformed those who were not taking world languages. World language study has also been shown to enhance listening skills and memory, and the development of second language skills can contribute a significant additional dimension to the concept of communication. Furthermore, students who have studied a world language develop greater cognitive skills in such areas as mental flexibility, creativity, divergent thinking and higher order thinking skills (Foster and Reeves; Landry; Rafferty; Ginsburg and McCoy).


    For additional information and research on the multitude of benefits, please click here and here.
    1. Instructional Goals, Proficiency Expectations, and Time
    The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Proficiency Guidelines, first published in 1986, shifted the emphasis in language instructional goals from what learners know about language to what they can do with the language they have learned, and at the same time they established a common metric for measuring student performance. Portland Public Schools’ World Languages Content Standards are aligned to the ACTFL proficiency guidelines as well as national, state, and Oregon University System foreign/second language standards.


    Another important factor in language learning involves the length of time devoted to it. To become proficient in another language, learners must progress through various overlapping stages spanning several years, just as they do when acquiring their first language. The difficulty of the selected language must also be considered. Some languages, such as Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, take longer for native English speakers to acquire than others more closely related to English.
    1. Satisfying the Graduation Requirement
    Starting with the graduating class of 2011, students in Portland Public Schools will need two credits of the same world language to graduate. The following are some of the ways in which students can meet this requirement:
      • successfully pass courses at high school (e.g., French 1/2 and 3/4)
      • demonstrate existing proficiency at a PPS World Language Benchmark 4 or higher
      • successfully pass a high school equivalent course prior to 9th grade with a grade of C or better and articulate into a second year (or higher) course at high school
    Among the criteria defining middle or elementary school courses equivalent to high school courses in District Policy 6.10.100-P is: “…course content, statement, goals, equivalent to and compatible with a high school program …” This brings up the most frequently asked question from K-8 administrators, “What are the goals that students need to meet in order to earn the high school credit and go into a 2nd year course?”


    To have better articulation and consistent expectations across the district and not just between specific feeder pattern schools, the PPS K-12 World Language teachers have delineated proficiency goals by language and level of instruction. For K-8 teachers, these “Functions Frameworks” serve as a clear set of expected proficiency outcomes for students to demonstrate in order to be appropriately placed in 2nd year and beyond courses at high school. 


    What are some potential K-8 program models?
    PPS is a recognized national leader in immersion and two-way immersion/dual language education. School districts throughout the U.S. look to Portland’s programs in Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and now Russian to learn effective strategies in starting programs. Immersion models are the most intensive in that the curricular content is learned in the target language. These programs aim for attainment of high levels of proficiency (ACTFL Intermediate High to Advanced) upon graduation from high school. For more information on immersion education, please contact the PPS Immersion Education Coordinator, Michael Bacon at mbacon@pps.net.


    Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) programs are less intensive than any of the varieties of immersion, but when well articulated can help students reach very meaningful levels of proficiency (ACTFL Intermediate Low and higher). Many FLES programs take on elements of immersion by designing integrated thematic instruction that reinforces the elementary curriculum. FLES programs typically start at 1st grade, but could also begin in 3rd or 4th. FLES has many variations, but what they all have in common is that they are sequential, cumulative, continuous over several years of instruction, and proficiency-oriented. Click here to see FLES models chart.


    Please note that Exploratory programs allow students to “sample” one or several languages, but do not have language proficiency as a goal and cannot be used in meeting the high school graduation requirement.