Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/families/education/articles/1205APchinesetest-ON.html

China to finance AP tests for U.S. high schools
The Washington Post
Dec. 5, 2003

WASHINGTON - Chinese officials announced that they will spend nearly $700,000 to create an Advanced Placement Chinese language and culture test for U.S. high schools. Along with an Italian AP program announced in September, this marks the first time foreign governments have financed standardized tests for U.S. students.

Chinese Ambassador to the United States Yang Jiechi and College Board President Gaston Caperton welcomed the Chinese investment as good for both countries. "Our education system needs to respond to an increasingly interconnected global economy and to the growing cultural diversity in the United States," Caperton said.

But critics of the increased emphasis on standardized tests in U.S. schools said they feared the New York City-based College Board, a nonprofit organization that owns the popular AP and SAT tests, was selling influence in American classrooms for cash.

"What is the Chinese or Italian government buying for their sponsorship?" asked Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FAIRTEST). "Will they be able to specify or influence the content of the exams which is, in turn, designed to drive the AP course curriculum? Can they, for example, urge the inclusion of reading passages from the 'Little Red Book'?"

In an interview, Caperton, a former governor of West Virginia, rejected such concerns as "foolish." He said, "The reason that we are doing this is, one, we think languages are becoming increasingly important for students to know and, number two, is to really give deeper understanding of other cultures which we think in this world is critical to understanding and better world relations."

The $1.37 million cost of developing the equivalent of a college-level third year course and exam in Chinese for high school students will be split equally between the Chinese government grant and private foundations, Caperton said. The Italian government announced in September that it will spend $300,000, with an additional $200,000 from charitable groups and foundations, for an AP Italian Language and Culture course and exam. The Italian program is cheaper because the language, for American students, is not as difficult as China's tonal spoken language and ideographic written language.

The two new courses and tests would be added to the 34 courses and exams in 19 subject areas now covered by AP, which gives high schoolers a chance to prepare for college academic work, and if they score high enough, get college credit. The program has been growing rapidly, with 1.7 million AP exams given to nearly a million high school students last May, and some educators predict it will eventually supplant the SAT and the ACT as the country's most important tests. AP exams are usually three hours long and are written and scored by outside experts.

The College Board said 500 high schools have so far indicated they wish to participate in the first AP Italian courses, scheduled for the fall of 2005 with the first exams in May 2006. The Chinese course will not be ready until the fall of 2006, with the first tests in May 2007, the College Board said.

The majority of students in China study English, but only 50,000 American students study Chinese, a College Board statement said. It contrasted that small number learning a language spoken by 1.5 billion people with the 1 million American students who study French, spoken by only 70 million people.

Perry Link, professor of Chinese at Princeton University, said an AP course and test might help raise the low level of Chinese instruction in American high schools, particularly if the exam includes a section recording the student speaking the language, as AP exams in other languages do.

He said many ethnic Chinese instructors do not believe that Americans can learn the four tones that are essential to comprehensible Chinese speech, and thus do not bother to teach them. "But it is quite possible to teach Americans to speak properly," he said.

Yang, in welcoming the new course, said "people-to-people contact between China and the United States is important for increasing mutual understanding, fostering friendship, and expanding bilateral relations. ... The bridge of understanding and friendship cannot be built without language." He noted that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will soon be visiting Washington.

Schaeffer called the new tests part of "the never-ending commercialization of education." He said, "I wonder if we can ask the College Board to make the contracts with the two governments public so that educators, journalists and kibitzers can see what is being bought and sold and at what prices."