By Pierre D. Habel
Ongoing conversations in our school community on the topic of honors designations and weighted grades prompt me to ask, “What value does the D’Evelyn Liberal Arts program (as a whole) add for students?” And more particularly I ask, “What is the specific value added by the requirements of study in a second language?” Answering these questions took me back to research I started before the question of honors and weighted grades came up. It seems to me that the answers to these questions will matter to all members of the Jaguar community.
A bit of background: on standardized tests, D’Evelyn students score, on average, exceedingly well. But is that because of some unique trait of our bright and hardworking students? Or can it be linked to the nature of the curriculum to which they apply their intellect and drive? Without doubt, the traits of our students and their families contribute to their achievement. Hard data nevertheless show the value of a rigorous liberal arts curriculum such as D’Evelyn’s. Such data may be found in the College Board’s comprehensive reports on the backgrounds and SAT scores of the nation’s college-bound seniors. These reports illustrate powerful correlations between the coursework of college-bound seniors in the five core academic disciplines and increased SAT scores. The data presented here are from reports issued for 2015 and for 2016, the most recent years available; when the College Board changed the SAT in 2017, they stopped releasing this type of aggregate data. The loss going forward of such data is a tremendous shame, but should you search out data for 2014 and prior years, you’d see the same general trends, year after year, for the tremendous value added by rigorous course requirements (like those of D’Evelyn) in English, Math, Social Studies, Science, and especially in study of a second language.
Conclusion 1: Pursuit of a strong liberal arts program with rigorous requirements in the five academic disciplines correlates closely with high achievement on the SAT and readiness for college. Table 1 shows performance data for all takers of the SAT in 2015 and 2016. At the bottom of each section are the global mean scores for that year. Above them are the mean scores of students whose coursework in the five core academic disciplines paralleled the minimum requirements of D’Evelyn (light shading), as well as the scores of students whose coursework exceeded those requirements by one year (darker shading). The highest score values for each year are presented in bolded red. Note the consistently higher scores correlating with additional study in each discipline.
The correlations shown here between completing coursework in the five core academic disciplines and achievement on the SAT offer validation for the requirements of the D’Evelyn program and also offer sound reasons for students to exceed them.
Conclusion 2: Advanced study of a second language correlates with the highest level of achievements on the SAT and readiness for college. Looking again at Table 1 above, you’ll see that in both 2015 and 2016, students who studied a second language for four years (exceeding D’Evelyn’s requirements by one year) had higher average scores in all three portions of the SAT than students whose coursework exceeded by one year our requirements in English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. What about when coursework exceeds our minimum by two years and includes Advanced Placement coursework?
Data in the College Board’s reports document a continued positive correlation between Advanced Placement coursework (exceeding D’Evelyn’s minimum requirements by two years) and increased performance on the SAT. Table 2 shows the level of achievement of students nationwide who took Advanced Placement coursework in a second language. Here the bolded red scores indicate that the AP World Language takers had the higher scores than those taking an AP course in any other discipline.
First, please note that students who did AP coursework in a second language (exceeding our requirement by two years) had composite (Reading, Mathematics, and Writing) scores 30 or more points higher than students who took one additional year, and more than 140 points higher than students who took the minimum world language courses for graduation. Second, note again those red bolded scores, which indicate that the scores of AP World Language takers surpassed students taking AP courses in any other discipline. This is true of two of the sub-scores, and both of the composite scores. The Critical Reading and Writing sub-scores of AP World Language takers were higher than any other groups by four and ten points, respectively, both in 2015 and 2016. The Mathematics sub-score lagged just two points behind that of AP Science takers in 2015, and just four points behind the score of AP Math takers in 2016. And for each composite score AP World Language takers outperformed AP Science takers, the next highest group, by 2 points (Critical Reading and Mathematics) and 12 points (Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing) in 2015. In 2016 AP World Language takers also outscored AP Science takers, the next highest group, by 4 (Critical Reading and Mathematics) and 14 points (Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing).
Those of you patient enough to read through to this point have found compelling data linking academic achievement as measured by the SAT to meeting and exceeding D’Evelyn’s curricular requirements. You’ve also seen the potent correlation between advanced study of a second language and such academic achievement. In the context of D’Evelyn, ambitious learners should certainly plan on taking French, Latin, or Spanish for our full five-year sequence so that they claim the benefits of Advanced Placement coursework in a language. In part 2 of this column, I’ll give additional evidence to support both the choice to pursue five years of language study and the choice to pursue Latin since it has the strongest correlation with high academic achievement.
By Pierre Habel, Latin Teacher
The adventure of a teenage lifetime is just around the corner, and it is not too late to join! 15 spots remain for our May-June tour of Italy, France, and Spain. Mr. Habel is sponsoring this 15-day adventure which starts in Rome and includes stops in Assisi, Florence, and Pisa before heading to southern France with visits to Nice, Avignon, and Carcassonne. Our time in Spain will include time in Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia. The art and history, the sun and sand, and the food and culture will fill travelers with rich experiences and memories, and best of all, students will see friendships strengthened through the shared experience of exploration!
If you haven’t already registered for the tour, Mr. Habel is hosting a final enrollment meeting on Monday, Sept. 16th at 7PM in room E-205. You may use this link to RSVP for the meeting, and, of course, please feel free to reach out to Mr. Habel (email@example.com) with any preliminary questions.
By Pierre Habel, Latin Teacher
It’s August! Back to school and study of a second language! Whether a student is in year one or year four of language study, it’s crucial to use learning strategies that maximize mastery of French, Latin, or Spanish. In June I had the pleasure of introducing these strategies to incoming 7th-graders during our prep school sessions. Now, parents, I hope that you will consider several tested and proven approaches to maximal mastery so that you can help your student increase his or her success. The tips below come from a fascinating survey of the neuroscience of optimal learning, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown et al., (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2014). Some of the tips may seem counter-intuitive yet consider that if intuition were all that’s needed to learn at a high level, we’d all be geniuses. And best of all, these tips lead to growth in other academic disciplines, as well.
Build Desirable Difficulty!
A key requirement for students as they learn is building some difficulty into one’s study routine. Desirable difficulty helps students move from quick and easy recognition to lasting and meaningful retrieval, since overcoming short-term impediments leads to stronger, more durable retention. Re-reading textbooks and highlighted notes is easy and builds recognition, but recognition does not constitute reliable recall, production skills, or a capacity for use and analysis of information. D’Evelyn students will benefit from early adoption of a study scheme that incorporates retrieval strategies, which, though hard at the beginning of a lesson, lead to growth through meaningful repetition as corrected errors in practice lead to accurate retrieval in application.
Learn in All Modes!
Each student tends to have an “easier” mode of learning (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.). During research establishing the value of desirable difficulty, neuroscientists have found that learning solely in one’s preferred style is actually less powerful than learning in multiple modes. Students who build study routines in which they practice the elements and use of language in all modes (writing, speaking aloud, reading, listening) will gain mastery sooner. In other words, vocabulary and conjugations can and should be practiced in writing, visually, and (with the right study partner or technology) orally and aurally.
Space and Interleave Learning!
Massed practice (studying with one focus in a single long setting) is not the way to win, especially when it happens the day before the quiz! From the beginning of a semester and the beginning of each unit, students should do multiple shorter study and learning sessions. Effective learning can now be running through retrieval of vocabulary (in multiple modes!), now verb conjugation (in multiple modes!), or now practicing dialogue with a friend. Interleaving (working in learning and study activities for other courses between study of the Foreign Language material) multiplies the enhanced learning power of using spaced and varied modes of practice.
It does no good for a student to wait until a quiz or test to demonstrate how much he or she knows. Calibration is the early and frequent use of learning behaviors (flashcards with Dad, written reproduction of vocab or conjugations that Mom can check against the original list or textbook, peer quizzing about concepts or skills found in notes, computer drill) which give a student an authentic gauge of current mastery and, more importantly, a chance to correct errors for total mastery. Parents, this is a powerful way to support your son or daughter with the essential elements of language learning!
Go Successfully Forward!
As your child learns the rich content of D’Evelyn Foreign Language courses, he or she will benefit from implementing these four strategies as a start. Mastery of a second language requires that students build stronger and faster neural pathways both to data and to the skills by which students move from mere data to read, write, speak, and listen... Making knowledge of a language stick for three, four, five years (and beyond) is critical. Talk to your student’s teacher at Back to School Night for other tips on how to make it so!