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Advanced Placement Italian exam to be suspended

The College Board says the test won't be offered after this spring but could be revived if sufficient money is found. A fund-raising effort by Italian Americans fell short.

January 08, 2009|Larry Gordon

It's arrivederci after all for Advanced Placement Italian.

Despite a spirited fundraising campaign by Italian Americans in Southern California and across the country, the effort to save the AP exam in Italian has failed, at least for now.

The language exam for high school students trying to win college credit will be suspended after this spring's testing because not enough money was pledged to subsidize it, College Board officials in New York said Wednesday. The exam was launched four years ago and is expected to attract only 2,200 test-takers this year, less than a quarter of the number needed to make it viable, they added.

The news disappointed Southland teachers of Italian. They said many students will be discouraged from studying the language without the prestigious AP Italian class and the incentive to earn college credit by passing the exam.

"I'm very sad to hear that. We worked so hard to save it," said Ida Lanza, who teaches an AP Italian course at San Pedro High School, which serves a substantial Italian American community.

The nonprofit College Board, which offers 37 AP tests in various subjects, as well as the SAT, announced last spring that it would drop the Italian exam after 2009. Following protests by Italian Americans, the testing agency said it would reverse the decision if $1.5 million in outside money could be raised.

As a result, the Italian Language Foundation was formed and rounded up $650,000 in pledges from individuals, companies and philanthropies. But much of that was contingent on the Italian government funding most of the rest, according to foundation President Margaret Cuomo, a radiologist and the daughter of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Italian government officials said they wanted to help but apparently did not grasp the situation's urgency and importance, said Cuomo, who personally lobbied Italian government officials in Rome. Cuomo said she was "deeply disappointed" in the Italian government, "as are many teachers and many students and parents."

However, Cuomo and Trevor Packer, the College Board's vice president for AP tests, held out the possibility that the test could be revived in 2011 if enough money were found. "It's not over yet," Cuomo said. "We will try to get it back."

The Italian government had previously provided seed money to help develop the three-hour exam of reading, writing, speaking and listening skills, and an official at the Los Angeles consulate said last year she was certain Italy would give more to save the test. Efforts to reach the Italian Embassy in Washington and the consulate in Los Angeles for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Packer said that the numbers of students taking the annual Italian exam had edged up somewhat over four years but remained small compared with those for Spanish, with 101,000, and even Chinese, with 5,000, and were unlikely to reach the 10,000 originally projected by Italian test advocates. He said the College Board loses about $2 million a year on the Italian test after students pay the $86-per-test fee, and he emphasized that the organization's policy is not to spend more than $500,000 a year on an AP test.

"We simply don't have the funding," he said.

Packer praised the efforts of the Italian American community in trying to save the test, calling it unprecedented. "If there is any positive outcome to this in a very sad story, it is how the community has become galvanized," he said.

Advanced Placement exams test high school students' grasp of college-level material and confer prestige to subject areas and students who master them.

According to the College Board, 305 high schools in the U.S. offer the Italian AP class, including about 23 in California. In contrast, more than 6,400 schools, including 1,120 in California, offer AP Spanish.

The College Board also said last year that it plans to discontinue three other AP tests -- in French literature, Latin literature and advanced computer science -- after the May administration.

But tests will still be offered in the French and Latin languages and computer science. According to Packer, there have been no public campaigns to save the other tests.

Matteo Amalfitano, a junior at San Pedro High, said he had planned to take the AP Italian test this spring and to retake it if he didn't pass it the first time. Now, he has just one chance. "It's not like I can take it next year, so I might as well try," he said.

Because of the test's cancellation, he said he thought more students would stop Italian studies at two years instead of three or four. "They won't follow through, and that's kind of a shame," he said.

--

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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