New Formatting and Confusion Surrounding AP Spanish Courses

Traditional Mexican Papel Picado (meaning “perforated” or “pecked paper”) with incorporated letters of the Spanish alphabet. This is representative of elements of Spanish language and culture from Spanish-speaking cultures taught in our Advanced Placement Spanish courses. Illustration by Lula Hugo.

How would you feel about going from Spanish 7-8 to a graduate-level course? Franklin admin has made some changes to the school’s beloved Spanish program, causing confusion and barriers for some of our most advanced Spanish-speaking students. To help understand this new system, I sat down with our very own AP Spanish teachers Tod Grobey (AP Spanish Language teacher) and Gregorio Rangel (AP Spanish Literature teacher) to dive deep into the issue. I wish to inform anyone curious about the situation and acknowledge those students who have been affected. At the end of my discussion with our AP Spanish teachers, I asked them to offer any advice to these students (and anyone who wishes to apply themselves to learning a language), so stay tuned for that as well!

To understand how this is affecting Franklin students, I first have to explain some logistical aspects of the situation. In a nutshell, Franklin offers two AP Spanish courses: AP Spanish Language and Culture and AP Spanish Literature and Culture. I italicize “literature” because these course names are incredibly similar, but they are indeed very different in their content. Here I will call them AP Spanish Language and AP Spanish Literature, for both of our sakes. Essentially, AP Spanish Language is the step above Spanish 7-8 and AP Spanish Literature is a step above that. 

To begin to understand the situation, let’s take it back to pre-pandemic times. Due to low enrollment numbers because of how advanced the AP Spanish Literature course is, the Franklin administration had two possible courses of action: either cut the class entirely from the course catalog or start offering each AP Spanish class exclusively on alternating years to up enrollment in Spanish Literature. Over the following summer (before last year’s move to distance learning), the decision was made and the administration chose the latter. This change has only been made at FHS and not district-wide. 

Last year was the first school year this change came into effect, and only the AP Spanish Language course was offered for both semesters during distance learning. This means of course that only AP Spanish Literature is being taught during the 2021-2022 school year. Now, let me introduce you to the issue. Students who were seniors during the 2020-2021 school year who wanted to take AP Spanish Literature were unable to do so—only AP Spanish Language was being offered that year. On the other hand, students who have completed Spanish 7-8 (mostly juniors) and students in the Spanish Immersion program who want to move onto AP Spanish Language this year have to wait an entire year to take a level-appropriate class. ​​”I feel awful because this means some students won’t be studying Spanish until next year,” said Grobey. Many students who did not want to wait a year without studying Spanish have taken the plunge into the more difficult AP Spanish Literature class this year. “There are a lot of gaps to be filled because these kids did not have the space to learn to write and read long materials in AP Spanish Language,” said Rangel, when asked about how some students are doing in a much harder class than they had maybe bargained for. 

Another factor here is the Oregon Seal of Biliteracy. If a student scores a 4 or 5 on the AP Spanish Language test (specifically not the AP Spanish Literature test), they are granted the Oregon Seal of Biliteracy, which is an important personal goal of many language learners in high school. When this course and test were introduced to PPS, Franklin had the most Seals of Biliteracy out of all the high schools in the district. Unfortunately, this new course formatting means that every other year now the opportunity to earn the seal is unavailable via the AP test. Do not despair if this is you, though! For students who still want to be considered for the seal but are unable to take the AP Spanish Language test, the STAMP test is also an option and can be taken a few times throughout the year. The STAMP (Standards-based Measurement of Proficiency) test is an assessment of language proficiency through reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Students often take the STAMP test for correct placement in high school courses or to earn 5-10 college language credits, depending on proficiency. 

I myself am not currently in any of Franklin’s language programs, but I still feel strongly about this issue. I have friends who have been or are currently being negatively affected by this change in the program, and my heart also goes out to those I don’t know who are struggling. Last school year, students had to adapt to a completely new learning style, and this year we have to adjust back to in-person learning! I don’t think I’m alone in feeling the whiplash from the last couple years. That on top of the challenge of having one’s learning disrupted, especially in a difficult subject like world language, must be overwhelming. As students it’s important to acknowledge each other’s efforts and pay attention to what’s happening in our community so we can support and uplift each other. 

In parting, I want to relay some advice from our AP Spanish teachers: 

  • Don’t despair! Support each other and work together.
  • If you are currently taking AP Spanish Literature, take the test if you can. The worst that will happen is you won’t get any extra college credits and you can still learn from your experience and challenge yourself. 
  • For students taking a year off of Spanish to wait for AP Spanish Language, flex your Spanish muscle! Practice reading and writing in Spanish. Multnomah County Library has a wonderful Spanish library and you could even pick up a pen-pal in a Spanish-speaking country. 
  • For more in-depth practice, take a Spanish course at PCC and keep your language learning active.

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