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Students flaunt fluency online

| Thursday, May 15, 2003

This week the Pittsburgh Public Schools has launched online tests to gauge students' fluency in foreign languages.

Pittsburgh Public Schools is one of the few school districts in the nation using this technology to test verbal fluency, said Dr. Thekla Fall, program officer for world languages at the schools.

City schools began using the Internet this week to evaluate more than 1,000 students in French, Spanish, Japanese and German.

The online program is faster and more efficient in testing verbal skills and provides data officials can use to evaluate the district's foreign language program, officials said.

"I don't think many students take a language to learn the grammar, but rather to effectively communicate. This test really shows how well the student is doing in that area," Fall said.

Students log into the program and are presented with real world scenarios, Fall said. For example, one part of the test has a student conversing with a digital hotel clerk about prices and amenities in the hotel, a situation facing most foreign travelers.

The program records the students' responses, which are graded by a foreign language teacher. Previously, students were tested by speaking into a tape recorder and delivering it to a teacher.

She said the taped test takes up to 20 minutes to grade, but grading the online test takes about 10 minutes because it is better structured for grading and the digital recorder is easier to understand.

The testing ends this week, and students should receive their results before school ends in June.

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