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High School Foreign Language Study and College Academic Performance

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Examines the correlation between high school foreign language study and success in college. Found that those who studied Latin, French, German, or Spanish in high school may be expected to perform better academically in college than students of equal academic ability who do not take a foreign language. (SED)
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American Classical League
HIGH SCHOOL FOREIGN LANGUAGE STUDY AND COLLEGE ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
Author(s): PATRICIA DAVIS WILEY
Source:
The Classical Outlook,
Vol. 62, No. 2 (DECEMBER-JANUARY 1984-85), pp. 33-36
Published by: American Classical League
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THE CLASSICAL OUTLOOK / December-January 1984-85 33
HIGH SCHOOL FOREIGN
LANGUAGE STUDY
AND
COLLEGE ACADEMIC
PERFORMANCE
PATRICIA DAVIS WILEY
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
An emerging consensus places the study of foreign
languages and cultures alongside the five "basics"
of English, mathematics, computer science, social
studies, and the natural sciences as fundamental
components of a sound education.
National Advisory Board on International Educa-
tion Programs, 1984
There is little doubt that foreign language learning
has identifiable educational values (Skelton, 1957;
Sheils, 1977; Eddy, 1981; Wiley, 1982; Educational
EQuality Project, 1983; National Commission on Excel-
lence in Education, 1983; Wiley, 1984). Yet in 1979 the
President's Commission on Foreign Language and In-
ternational Studies reported the following statistics
(President's Commission, 7):
Only 15 percent of American high school students
now study a foreign language - down from 24 per-
cent in 1965.
Only 8 percent of American colleges and univer-
sities require a foreign language for admission,
compared with 34 percent in 1966.
While the situation has improved over the five years
since publication of the Commission's Report, these
data are nonetheless alarming, particularly in view of
the apparent correlation between second language
learning and 1) "mental dexterity, flexibility or creativ-
ity" ( Jarvis, 1980, 36) and 2) those skills measured by
the College Board's Scholastic Aptitude Test (Sheils,
1977; Eddy, 1981; LaFleur, 1981, 1982; Pacific North-
west Council, 1983).
Although many factors must be considered when
interpreting the results of standardized testing in-
struments, the efficacy of foreign language study and
its positive correlation with standardized test scores
cannot be ignored. Other possible effects of high
school foreign language study should be examined.
Two areas for research of this sort are 1) the over-all
college academic success of students who have studied
foreign languages in high school and 2) academic suc-
cess that the high school foreign language student
achieves in freshman college English courses.
This paper presents the results of a major empirical
research study; using a grand population of over
44,000 students from all nine state public higher edu-
cation institutions in Tennessee and conducted during
the summer and fall of 1983. This research project was
funded by 'a summer, 1983, University of Tennessee
(Knoxville campus) Faculty Development Research
Grant, the University of Tennessee Department of
Curriculum and Instruction, and by the researcher.
The following questions were investigated in this
study:
1. Is there a positive relationship between high
school foreign language study and college
cumulative grade point average (GPA)?
2. Is there a positive relationship between high
school foreign language study and freshman
English cumulative GPA?
Significance of the Study
A review of related literature indicates that at this
writing there have been no other published research
studies comparing high school foreign language study
to academic success in college, utilizing such a broad
data base as this study, and controlled for homogene-
ous high school cumulative grade point averages and
American College Test (ACT) scores.
Method
Subjects
During spring, 1983, the researcher contacted the
Deans of Admissions at the nine public higher educa-
tion institutions in Tennessee (Table 1). Approval to
sample data from each institution was granted through
personal interviews on campuses and through follow-
up correspondence.
Each four-year public institution was asked to iden-
tify non-transfer junior and senior full-time students in
attendance during the spring and summer, 1983, aca-
demic sessions (non-transfer students were selected in
order to insure a cumulative grade point average at the
same institution). From a computer listing of students,
supplied by each institution's Admissions or Student
Records Office, a randomly selected, minimum five
percent sample from each institution (N=2244) was
drawn from the total potential population (N=44,000).
Data Retneval Procedures
Appointments for campus visits to each institution
for data retrieval were scheduled for July and August,
1983. Since none of the institutions involved in the
research study had complete high school and college
Table 1: TENNESSEE INSTITUTIONS
PARTICIPATING IN THE RESEARCH STUDY
i nstitution Location
University of Tennessee Chattanooga
University of Tennessee Knoxville
University of Tennessee Martin
East Tennessee State University Johnson City
Austin Peay State University Clarks ville
Tennessee Tech. State Univ. Cookeville
Tennessee State University Nashville
Middle Tennessee State Univ. Murfreesboro
Memphis State University Memphis
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34 THE CLASSICAL OUTLOOK / December-January 1984-85
data stored for computer access, hand retrieval and
recording of all data were required. The data retrieved
for later computer analysis were hand recorded on
one-page formatted sheets and included the variables
shown in Table 2.
At most institutions examined in this study, high
school records were kept apart from college records. In
fact, only two institutions had college transcripts which
included high school records. Once the most expedi-
tious method for data retrieval had been identified, the
research started with data extraction from high school
records. This was the most exhaustive and, at times,
most frustrating part of the study. Tennessee does not
have a standard high school transcript format. Conse-
quently, transcripts differed from school district to
school district and, in some instances, from school to
school within the same district. Even the recording of
information on the transcripts was inconsistent. Some
high school transcripts had not calculated cumulative
GPA's but rather "academic averages," using only
selected high school academic terms for calculating the
"over-all" GPA. In addition, ACT scores were not al-
ways recorded on the transcripts, nor were the total
units of English or foreign languages. When incom-
plete high school records were found, they were ex-
cluded from the study.
College records, fortunately, were usually complete.
There were some institutions which had not calculated
a cumulative GPA (starting with the first academic
term of the freshman year). Freshman English
cumulative GPA's were hand-calculated from course
grades retrieved from the transcript (in almost one-
third of the college records used in this study,
"freshman English" course grades were found in the
second, third, and even fourth academic year of course
work).
Data Analysis
Following approximately seven weeks of data re-
trieval, the raw data were hand-coded on data entry
sheets, key-punched, extracted from computer files,
and stored on nine-track magnetic tape. Data reduc-
Table 2: VARIABLES FOR
RESEARCH STUDY DATA
High School
Units of English
Units of foreign language(s)
ACT Composite raw scores
ACT English subtest raw scores
Cumulative GPA
College
Major or college affiliation
Freshman English cumulative GPA
Cumulative GPA
Personal
Sex
Ethnicity
tion and analysis were performed on an IBM Model
3081 by University of Tennessee (Knoxville) computer
specialists Greg Raines and Eric Jones, using the Statis-
tical Analysis System (SAS). Analysis procedures in-
cluded frequency distributions, two-tailed t-Tests, and
correlation analysis. Following a frequency distribution
of high school GPA's and ACT raw scores, homogene-
ous groups were identified. All data were controlled for
the following variables:
1. Homogeneous groups of high school foreign
language cumulative GPA's; all students were
grouped into the following GPA categories: 1.0-
1.24; 1.25-1.49; 1.50-1.74; . . . 3.75-3.99; 4.0.
2. High school foreign language versus no high
school foreign language.
3. Discrete high school language groups; the total
number of students who had taken Latin,
French, German, and/or Spanish appear in
Table 3. In Tennessee, the most frequently
studied languages are, in descending order,
Spanish, French, Latin, and German. The dis-
crete language N's analyzed in this study there-
fore reflect this fact.
4. ACT Composite raw scores; all students were
grouped in the following ACT groups: 0-8; 9-16;
17-21; 22 and above.
5. ACT English subtest raw scores (same ACT
groups as above).
6. College major or affiliation.
7. Institution.
8. Sex.
9. Ethnicity.
Table 3: LANGUAGES STUDIED
BY RESEARCH PARTICIPANTS
Language N
French 504
German 61
Latin 306
Spanish 810
Results
Data analysis described above resulted in the follow-
ing answers to questions formulated prior to the re-
search and stated above, Is there a positive relationship
between high school foreign language study and: 1)
college cumulative GPA? 2) freshman English cumula-
tive GPA?
Tables 4 and 5 indicate that those students who took
a foreign language in high school had a cumulative
college GPA of approximately 2.80, compared with
those students who did not take a high school foreign
language (2.58 average). In two-tailed t-Tests compar-
ing the differences of means of cumulative college
GPA's of those students whose high school GPA's fell
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R 3T
CONTROL GROUP-NO H.S. FOR. LANG. <2.40!
§2.813- ;
, IIIIIIIII
L , LATIN
f 6ZS" ! If cërmh mi im
r 9S FRENCH 8PANI8H
I dial 1 Mill uai SES SS
2.438- 1 Mill SES SS
COMPARISON OF CONTROL GROUP US. THOSE
STUDENTS (WITH SAME H.S. G.P.A.) WHO
TOOK HIGH SCHOOL FOREIGN LANGUAGE
(Graphics by Richard J. Davis, M.D.)
THE CLASSICAL OUTLOOK / December-January 1984-85 35
Table 4: H.S. FOREIGN LANGUAGE STUDY
AND OVER-ALL COLLEGE GPA
3t
U CONTROL GROUP-NO H.S. FOR. LANG. <2.58)
M ,
C¿ _2 875- ■ I»"»»
C¿ _2 875- ■ LATIN
L 1 SP 111111111
2.75- FRENCH Mllllll
! SS GERMAN
G Ii III 1 aB 8PANI8H
"liUlaUL
COMPARISON OF CONTROL GROUP US. THOSE
STUDENTS (WITH SAME H.S. G.P.A.) WHO
TOOK HIGH SCHOOL FOREIGN LANGUAGE
(Graphics by Richard J. Davis, M.D.)
Table 5: H.S. FOREIGN LANGUAGE STUDY
AND OVER-ALL COLLEGE GPA
3t
u CONTROL GROUP-NO H.S. FOR. LANG. (2.58)
M
r2 . 875- • ! llllllll
g . LATIN
^ T hcmjlii
•2 625 , III as SP^ISH
),,alaW- •2 625 ÀÊ* III
' ÀÊ* 1 2 3 4
COMPARISON OF CONTROL GROUP US. THOSE
STUDENTS <SAME ACT COMPOSITE) WHO
TOOK HIGH SCHOOL FOREIGN LANGUAGE
(Graphics by Richard J. Davis, M.D.)
within the 2.75-3.74 range, the level of significance
ranged from 0.001-0.006.
Table 4 compares high school foreign language ver-
sus no high school foreign language with college
cumulative GPA, and is controlled for homogeneous
groups of high school cumulative GPA's. It is significant
to note that in order of impact on college academic
success, Latin appeared to have the most positive effect
with a 2.89 average, with a level of significance in the
0.001-0.05 range when comparing the college cumula-
tive GPA's of those students who had high school GPA's
in the 2.0-3.74 range. French followed (2.81), then
German (2.77) and Spanish (2.73).
Table 5 compares high school foreign language ver-
sus no high school foreign language study with college
cumulative GPA (as above), and is controlled for
homogeneous groups of ACT Composite raw scores.
The control group (those students who had studied no
high school foreign language) had an average college
cumulative GPA of 2.58, compared to those who had
studied Latin (2.89), French (2.78), German (2.77),
and Spanish (2.76).
Tables 6 and 7 indicate that those students who took
a high school foreign language appeared to have a
higher freshman English cumulative GPA (2.63 aver-
age) than those students who did not take a high school
foreign language (2.39 average). Two-tailed t-Tests
comparing the mean college GPA's of those students
who had a high school GPA in the 2.75-3.49 range, had
a level of significance of 0.0001-0.007.
Data presented in Table 6 were controlled for
homogeneous groups of high school cumulative GPA's
and show that Latin may have the greatest impact on
freshman English GPA's (2.75 average), followed by
German (2.62), French (2.60), and Spanish (2.60).
Table 7 data were controlled for homogeneous
groups of ACT Composite raw scores and indicate that
Latin was the most influential foreign language in
Table 6: H.S. FOREIGN LANGUAGE STUDY
AND OVER- ALL COLLEGE ENGLISH GPA
Table 7: H.S. FOREIGN LANGUAGE STUDY
AND OVER-ALL COLLEGE ENGLISH GPA
F 3Ť
R CONTROL GROUP-NO H.S. FOR . LANG . <2 . 39)
§2.813- !
L !
limili
p2 . 625- ■ LATIN unum munii
u ! as GERHAN 8PANI8H
G ,|| H 9BB FRENCH
2 . 438- • - lili I SB
«alalia • - lili I SB
12 3 4
COMPARISON OF CONTROL GROUP US. THOSE
STUDENTS (SAME ACT COMPOSITE) WHO
TOOK HIGH SCHOOL FOREIGN LANGUAGE
(Graphics by Richard J. Davis, M.D.)
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36 THE CLASSICAL OUTLOOK / December-January 1984-85
terms of its possible effect on cumulative freshman
English GPA's (2.69 average), followed by German
(2.62 average), Spanish (2.62 average), and French
(2.56 average).
In this study, the particular high school foreign lan-
guage studied appeared to have a differential effect on
college academic performance. (It should be noted
that Eddy's 1981 study, which correlated foreign lan-
guage study with scores on the SAT and the Test of
Academic Performance, concluded the opposite; this
could be due to the restricted size and/or distribution
of Eddy's sample population.) Latin, in fact, proved to
be the high school foreign language which had the
highest positive correlation with both 1) over-all college
academic success, as measured by cumulative GPA,
and 2) freshman college English grades. (Please note
that the discussion of the variables of sex and ethnicity
are not reported in this paper.)
Limitations of the Study
The data collected for this research study were re-
stricted by the following limitations:
1. A population drawn from nine four- year public
institutions in Tennessee.
2. A population consisting of those full-time stu-
dents in attendance during the spring and/or
summer academic terms of 1983.
3. A minimum five percent sample from each in-
stitution of the potential grand population.
4. Available high school information recorded on
transcripts.
5. "Freshman" college English course grades were
not always taken during the freshman year of
college.
6. The amount of college foreign language study
was not entered into the data base.
7. The effect of other college courses on freshman
English cumulative GPA was not examined in
this study.
Discussion
This study sought to examine the correlation be-
tween high school foreign language study and aca-
demic success in college.
Based on the statistically significant results of this
research, it may be concluded that those students who
study Latin, French, German, or Spanish in high
school may be expected to perform better academically
in college than those high school students of equal
academic ability (as measured by similar high school
cumulative GPA's, ACT Composite, and ACT English
subtest raw scores) who do not take a foreign language.
References
Eddy, Peter A. Final Report: The Effect of Foreign Language
Study in High School on Verbal Ability as Measured by the
Scholastic Aptitude Test-Verbal. Washington, DC: Center for
Applied Linguistics, 1981.
Educational EQuality (sic) Project. Academic Preparation for
College: What Students Need to Know and Be Able to Do. New
York: The College Board, 1983.
Jarvis, Gilbert A. "The Value of Second- Language Learning."
In Learning a Second Language. Ed. Frank M. Grittner.
Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980.
LaFleur, Richard A. "Latin Students Score High on SAT and
Achievement Tests." CI, 76 (1981), 254.
LaFleur, Richard A. "1981 SAT and Latin Achievement Test
Results and Enrollment Data." CJ , 77 (1982), 343.
Maeroff, Gene I. "Declining Scores on Aptitude Test Laid to
Fewer Academic Courses." New York Times , 28 Mar. 1978, p.
18.
National Advisory Board on International Education Pro-
grams. Cńtical Needs in International Education : Recommen-
dations for Action. Washington, DC: USGPO, 1984.
National Commission on Excellence in Education. A Nation at
Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Washington,
DC: USGPO, 1983.
President's Commission on Foreign Language and Interna-
tional Studies. Strength Through Wisdom: A Cntique of U.S.
Capability. Washington, DC: USGPO, 1979.
Sheils, M. "Why SAT Scores Decline." Newsweek, 5 Sept. 1977,
pp. 82-83.
Skelton, Robert B. 'High School Foreign Language Study
and Freshman Performance." School and Society , 85 (1957),
203-05.
Wiley, Patricia D. "The Status of Foreign Language Educa-
tion in Tennessee: A Research Report." Tennessee Education,
11, No. 3 (1982), 3-8.
Wiley, Patricia D. "The Status of Foreign Language Educa-
tion: 1984." Tennessee Education , 14, No. 1 (1984), 3-13.
The Pacific Northwest Council on Foreign Languages Newsletter.
Fall, 1983, 15.
173. View of principal Chamber in the Regulini Galeassi
Tomb.
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Latin Students Score High on SAT and Achievement Tests
  • Richard A Lafleur
LaFleur, Richard A. "Latin Students Score High on SAT and Achievement Tests." CI, 76 (1981), 254.
SAT and Latin Achievement Test Results and Enrollment Data
  • Richard A Lafleur
LaFleur, Richard A. "1981 SAT and Latin Achievement Test Results and Enrollment Data." CJ, 77 (1982), 343.
Declining Scores on Aptitude Test Laid to Fewer Academic Courses
  • Gene I Maeroff
Maeroff, Gene I. "Declining Scores on Aptitude Test Laid to Fewer Academic Courses." New York Times, 28 Mar. 1978, p. 18.
Why SAT Scores Decline
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Sheils, M. "Why SAT Scores Decline." Newsweek, 5 Sept. 1977, pp. 82-83.
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