News

French teacher fights cancellation of AP exam

Without AP literature test, Gunn High French program could take nosedive, teacher and students fear

Students discussed slavery and resistance on a recent morning at Gunn High School in teacher Anne Jensen's Advanced Placement French Literature class, taking cues from Aime Cesaire's 1968 novel "Une Tempete."

The two slaves in the novel — a retelling of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" influenced by the 1960s American Black Power movement — have different approaches to seeking rights, just as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. did, one student said.

But the complex analysis in French, which pupils say propels them to work harder and speak better, may not happen after next year.

Last month the College Board, the education company that administers the college-credit-conferring Advanced Placement (AP) exams, announced it is canceling the AP French Literature exam after spring 2009.

Also on the chopping block are Latin Literature, Italian Language and Culture and Computer Science AB exams.

Jensen and students said cutting the test could be a death knell for the study of French literature and likely hurt the French program overall at Gunn, whose students recently scored first, second and third in the nation on the National French Exam, according to Principal Noreen Likins.

Cutting the literature test will discourage students from taking French classes by removing the promise of an engaging, college-credit-conferring class at the end of studies, students and Jensen said.

To protest, Jensen has launched a letter-writing campaign urging the College Board to rethink the decision.

She's also mobilized French teachers in her role as director of the Western region for a French teachers' association, she said.

She has sent more than 1,000 e-mails and spent at least $100 on postage for letters to College Board trustees asking them to reverse the cancellation, she said.

Yet the decision to cancel the exam is final, according to College Board spokesperson Jennifer Topiel.

The cuts allow the organization to redirect funding from low-demand classes to increasing teacher resources for high-demand classes, she said.

"The College Board is losing a lot of money on these four exams," she said.

The organization will now provide more lesson plans and as-you-go assessments to help teachers prepare students for other AP exams, she said.

She declined to say the cost of the cancelled tests or new resources.

Jensen, a 30-year French teacher and recipient of the Academic Palms from the French government — an award established by Napoleon for those who spread French culture — said the literature class is not just popular but crucial to learning French.

She cited Jayne Abrate, executive director of the American Association of Teachers of French, who said nationwide enrollment in AP French Lit, as it is often nicknamed, has grown 26 percent in the last nine years.

At Gunn, Jensen has expanded the class from nine students to 25 in the past decade, she said. Students view it as a reward for spending years toiling away at language learning, senior Jeemin Shin said.

Reading engrossing poems and novels is pay-off at the end of years of grammar memorization, she said. When she shopped for a French-language book on her own, "I ended up with the French version of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,'" she said.

Now she plans to study in France during college, she added.

College credit awarded by the AP exam is critical to maintaining enrollment, students and Jensen said.

While the school could still offer an advanced French literature class without the AP test and college credit at the end, fewer teens would want to take it, they said.

If the class were cancelled, literature would be folded into the current AP French Language class — but the lessons would be a pale imitation of their former rigor, Jensen said.

When the AP German Literature class was cancelled about a decade ago, enrollment dropped and the entire program waned in popularity, she said.

Topiel said an advisory panel for the College Board found the opposite, concluding the French literature class created an artificial gulf between the study of language and literature. The panel was composed of professors and other educators specializing in foreign languages, although none focus on French, according to the College Board Web site.

Topiel also said the vast majority of students taking the to-be-cancelled exams have other AP options at their school.

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Comments

Like this comment
Posted by french parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 9, 2008 at 1:25 pm

Please give us more information on how to support this teacher in her letter writing campaign...


Like this comment
Posted by Anne Jensen
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 9, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Please send letters to Gaston Caperton, President, The College Board (NY), 45 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY 10023-6992 (email: gcaperton@collegeboard.org) and Lester Monts, University of Michigan, 503 Thompson Street, Room 3084 Fleming Building, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1340 (email: lmonts@umich.edu)


Like this comment
Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 9, 2008 at 3:41 pm

As a parent of a student studying French at Paly (and a former student who also studied French there), I am unhappy with this news. I will write a letter. Also, I support maintaining French language (and literature) in PAUSD at all levels. I assume there is support for this from the district's supervisor of World Languages.


Like this comment
Posted by Friend in Florida
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2008 at 7:39 pm

"The College Board is losing a lot of money on these four exams."
LOL They make a ton of dough. Let's take 1 test as an example: SAT.
1,500,000 seniors took the exam last year. Let's round down the price of the test to $40.00. Hmmm, that's $60,000,000 with just one class. Sprinkle in juniors, sophomores, freshman. Let's not forget the now targeted elementary and middle school kids. Oh my! Did I forget the PSAT and various SAT Subject Tests? Whoa! And I overlooked the various AP tests. During your free time, take a look at some of the compensation packages for College Board execs. I'm sorry. I have to remember that it is a non-profit company; there's no way in the world that they're not making the best decision for our kids ;)


Like this comment
Posted by Friend in Florida
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2008 at 7:46 pm

I apologize because I forgot something.
I hate complaining without offering a solution:
Miss Jensen, who says you and the other AP French Lit teachers around the country can't create your own course and get the buy-in of the colleges and universities that cherish the course? After all, you have been working with a "template" for years now ;)


Like this comment
Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2008 at 7:31 am

Yes, do an end run around the College Board. If the College Board has no interest in those tests, they should be happy to provide you with their materials as a template also.

Perhaps a well-regarded French university could run the test.


Like this comment
Posted by trudy
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2008 at 7:32 am

p.s How the heck can they justify cutting Computer Science on the basis of insufficient students? Perhaps the College Board lacks sufficiently qualified exam writers.


Like this comment
Posted by Reading the fine print
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2008 at 10:39 am

"p.s How the heck can they justify cutting Computer Science on the basis of insufficient students? Perhaps the College Board lacks sufficiently qualified exam writers."

No, there are currently 2 different Computer Science AP exams. The College Board is simply eliminating one of them.


Like this comment
Posted by Ada
a resident of Midtown
on May 11, 2008 at 7:53 am

This is a very short sighted decision by the Board. Without AP tests the subject will be dropped. But the bureaucrats of College Board can't understand the damage they are inflicting on future generations.


Like this comment
Posted by irony check
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2008 at 8:01 am

Hmmm...fascinating...on the one hand we have "we MUST have foreign languages in our elementary schools to compete "globally"" and on the other hand we have APs dropping a foreign language...


Like this comment
Posted by Reading the fine print
a resident of another community
on May 11, 2008 at 9:49 am

"Hmmm...fascinating...on the one hand we have "we MUST have foreign languages in our elementary schools to compete "globally"" and on the other hand we have APs dropping a foreign language..."

Note, there will still be an AP French exam. It's the French LITERATURE exam that's being dropped. A full list of AP exams can be found at the College Board website. There are seven different language tests and currently French and Spanish have 2 separate tests (language and literature).


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2008 at 10:28 am

It sounds to me that this will not only affect those who are learning French as a foreign language, but also those native French speakers who are taking this class to supplement their possible inability to do well in an English literature test. In the same way that many non-native English speakers here are struggling with the English part of the CAHSEE test because they are basically English learners, they are not able to do well in a college English AP test. For a country that is trying to adopt the approach that all immigrants are welcome here and able to get a good education, this may actually be hindering them from something which before they could depend on.


Like this comment
Posted by wow
a resident of Barron Park
on May 11, 2008 at 10:26 pm

Madame Jensen

Can you clarify the first,second and third place scores cited in the article. Did threee Gunn students really score the top 3 highest scores in the nation?


Like this comment
Posted by irony check
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 12, 2008 at 11:06 am

Thanks, fine print.. you are right. Really isn't as ironic as I wrote, is it? THAT is irony for ya, someone who thinks they are being clever but AIN'T!


Like this comment
Posted by a guess
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2008 at 4:16 pm

wow:

I don't know the scores or who those students were. However I can make a guess: There are quite a few families from France in Palo Alto. I have known French born kids who have taken AP French classes in Palo Alto high schools. For them, obviously, it is much easier than for non native speakers of French to do well in those classes.


Like this comment
Posted by Paly teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 12, 2008 at 5:09 pm

The above comment by "a guess" is insulting to the energetic and highly proficient work of Gunn's French instructors, who are among the best at what they do.

For the logic to work -- even if one were to accept the premise that these were French-born students -- you'd have to also surmise that other schools across the nation didn't have French-born students. And that would be a preposterous assumption.

What's so hard to accept about the French program at Gunn being excellent?



Like this comment
Posted by a guess
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2008 at 6:14 pm

Paly teacher:

You are rather thin-skinned it seems to me. What I said in my post were facts. Furthermore, few areas in the nation have the French population we have around here. Finally, what I said has no bearing on the quality of the teaching program at Gunn.

Note: it's mostly the demographics that make this school district as strong as it is.


Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2008 at 6:37 pm

It seems to me that we may have a powerful group of French parents in PA. After all, rumor has it that we have a group wanting French Immersion waiting in the wings to see what happens to the MI pilot.


Like this comment
Posted by a reader
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2008 at 9:54 pm

I would like to point out an argument in the collegeboard's defense:

If there are not enough students signed up for the AP then the collegeboard will lose money. Each yr, they must pay for the test to be written. If something is not in demand, why produce it? If demand for Dietcoke should suddenly drop, why should Coca-Cola continue to produce it?
This also applies to our school district as well: For example, when there is not enough interested students in an elective course at either Gunn or Paly, the course is simply not offered.

Plus, the collegeboard is adding the Chinese Literature test next year I believe.


Like this comment
Posted by About Time?
a resident of Midtown
on May 12, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Is it about time that Palo Alto start looking that IB program if they are concerned about competing globally and let the AP's go?

Just a thought. The IB program is much more rigorous and comprehensive...


Like this comment
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 13, 2008 at 1:51 pm

Yes but you can make it a self-fulfilling situation when you drop the higher end, then the lower end goes down -- quite offering French 5/5AP and see how many students continue to enter the pipeline. I believe a comprehensive high school such as Paly should continue a full French program, consistent with Gunn and other similar comprehensive high schools in Silicon Valley and across the U.S.


Like this comment
Posted by Sad former student
a resident of Green Acres
on May 26, 2008 at 2:10 am

IB rarely gives students as much credit in college as AP, and many professors take it less seriously. I am at top college now, and I was placed far ahead of the kids who took IB French. I took Madame Jensen's AP classes in French Language and Literature and took both AP tests. While I scored a 3 on the Language, my 5 on Literature enabled me to place up in college and take more enjoyable classes on French film, music, and literature. Mme. Jensen is a superb teacher, and I still think back to my days reading Antigone, L'Etranger, and other works in her class. We learned how to think and write critically, and (sorry to sound corny) we also learned life lessons.

I agree that taking away the AP aspect or replacing it with an IB would decrease enrollment--having more APs makes students more competitive in college admissions. I am sorry for all the students who will miss out on Mme. Jensen's 6AP class, and I hope something can be done...it is a class that teaches students a lot and also inspires them to keep learning in the future.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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