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Ap Program: the Brighter Situation with the Italian Language

From the Washington Annual Conference the last data about the AP Italian Language and Culture Program

Cheryl Strayed, author of many New York Times bestsellers, including the memoir WILD, during her opening plenary at the Annual AP Conference in Washington, DC

Since its return, the AP Italian course helps to promote the Italian language and the dissemination of Italian culture in the USA. The course and exam have experienced a steady rise in enrollment and today AP Italian is considered a permanent part of the AP program. Some AP Italian teachers have divided opinions about the structure of the listening section. Here a summary of their debate

From 2007 to today the Advanced Placement Italian Language & Culture course continues to give prestige to the Italian language and it is considered as the flagship of the Italian program in American high schools. The course is offered both in high schools and online, and the exam is given each year during the second week of May. The exam assesses students’ abilities in the interpretive, interpersonal and presentational modes of communication and their cultural competencies through multiple choice and free response sections. 

As many will recall, the AP Italian Language and Culture program was inaugurated in the 2006-2007 school year, but was  suspended from 2009-2011. During that period, too many students of Italian interrupted their study path without being able to take the AP examination, as they had planned, and to earned university credits while studying at the high school. The course and the exam were reinstated in the 2011-2012 school year, thanks to the collaboration and donations of Italian American associations. In May 2012 1,806 students took the redesigned AP Italian Language and Culture Exam Since its return, the AP Italian course helps to promote the Italian language and the dissemination of Italian culture. Also, the course and exam have experienced a steady rise in enrollment and today AP Italian is considered a permanent part of the AP program.

Although the AP Italian has rise and has a permanent place at the College Board, the Italian teachers at the end of the year discuss the course and exam in at meetings and in social media. In a group on FB for teachers, some instructors opened a discussion on the structure of the Italian AP exam and one of them asked: “Can someone explain why the AP Italian Language and Culture Exam is the only language exam where students only hear the multiple choice audio sources once? In the French, German and Spanish Language and Culture Exams students hear the audio selections twice. Can this be changed on the Italian exam?” These questions made me curious and motivated me to research and to consult the College Board on the topic, and then write another article on the AP Italian Language and Culture Exam.

Some AP Italian teachers have divided opinions about the structure of the listening section. Some said that the Spanish, German, and French audio selections are longer and more difficult than those on the AP Italian exam, and for this reason students are listening to the audio sources twice instead of once. On the other hand, there are teachers who argue that is a disadvantage for AP Italian students to hear the audio scripts only once while the audio selections for AP French, German and Spanish are played twice. A colleague said that he went to see some examples of French and Spanish exams, and after seeing them, he hoped that the Italian exam would move to a similar format the later possible. According to some teachers the audio scripts on the French, German, and Spanish exams are not only more difficult and much longer than those of the Italian, but they are also mainly based on authentic sources, where those on the AP Italian exam are not. According to these teachers, the AP Italian audio questions are easier to understand than the other languages, and maybe that’s why they are read only once instead of two. However, there are also those who disagree because the Italian questions have their degree of difficulty.

 The following information have been provided to me by the College Board, and teachers can also find them posted on the “AP Italian Language and Culture Online Teacher Community”: 

The multiple choice listening section for AP Italian Language and Culture is different from those on the AP French, German and Spanish Language and Culture exams. While it is true that all audio sources on the French, German and Spanish exams are played twice, it should be understood that those audio sources are longer (up to three minutes in length) and have a greater listening load than those used on the Italian exam. The questions that accompany the longer audio sources on the French, German and Spanish exams require students to demonstrate not only their ability to identify main ideas and significant details, but also ask students to make inferences, draw conclusions, and work with vocabulary in context. The audio sources used on the Italian exam are much shorter, with much less of a listening load, and the questions that accompany the Italian audio sources are designed knowing that the students will only hear the selection once. They focus mostly on main ideas and significant details.  In addition, the audio sources on the Italian exam are recorded in a studio specifically for the exam and are not authentic sources such as those used on the French, German and Spanish Language exams, thus they are clear and free of background noise. Ultimately, the expectations for students to listen to the sources once the Italian exam are fair, as this is how their exam has been designed. Students are not disadvantaged.

Please understand that the differences between the Italian exam and the other exams in French, German and Spanish exist because Italian is a hybrid exam. When the decision was made to bring the Italian exam back after its two years hiatus in 2010 and 2011, it was decided to bring it back as quickly as possible. The best and fastest way to do this was to create an exam format that used the legacy task models for the multiple choice sections (listening and reading) and used the redesigned free response tasks that are common across French, German, Italian and Spanish. If the AP Program had done a full redesign of the Italian exam, it would have taken a full two years or longer to bring it back.”

It is important to know that the AP Italian Language and Culture Exam is prepared by a Development Committee composed of AP Italian teachers and university professors of Italian who adhere to strict guidelines set for the exam. The multiple choice audio selections’ scripts are written by the Committee and they are later recorded by Italian voice actors in a studio. The reason why there is no uniformity between the examination of the Italian AP and the other languages is unclear to many teachers, and this creates controversy and confusion. Therefore, it would be useful for AP Italian teachers to attend, or be present, at the world’s largest conference of all AP course: the AP Annual Conference (APAC).

This year annual conference was held in July, and each year it is in a different venue.  This year APAC was held from July 26-30  in Washington DC, and at the conference teachers were able to attend to workshops and sessions about all AP courses and AP exams. I participated at the AP Annual Conference in July 2007 in Las Vegas, I attended two days of intensive seminars from 8 am to 4pm. I must admit that I learned a lot about teaching form others professors, not only at the national level but also at the international level. Unfortunately, many teachers do not attend the conference because the registration is expensive, and they have to pay also the hotel and the travel expenses. There are schools that reimburse a percentage of the fees to teachers who are teaching the AP course, but not all institutions have money to cover the costs of conferences out the State. It would be a great idea if some of Italian associations would provide scholarships for teachers who want to go to the annual AP conference.

At APAC 2017 Professor Patricia DiSilvio, of Tufts University, provided two sessions for AP Italian Language and Culture. One focused on thematic teaching strategies that support student engagement. The second presented the results of 2017 AP Italian Language and Culture Exam, with an emphasis on students’ performance on the four free response tasks. Professor DiSilvio provided information on the common mistakes and omissions, as well as strategies to help teachers improve student’s performance on future exams. The 2017 Score Distributions are: 17.8% received 5; 19.1% received 4; 34.3% received 3; 22.8% received 2, and 6% received 1. We can very well note that 71.2% of the test takers received a passing score of 3 or higher. Looking back, in May 2016, 486 schools offered the AP Italian course and exam, did  a great job in growing the number of  the Italian students who took the exam to a total of 2,774 students. In 2015 students were 2,573, so there was an 8% increase in 2016. The College Board will publish the total registration of students for the 2017 in the middle of September.

Although the AP Italian exam is still a complex theme for many teachers, there are several ways to learn more about the structure of the exam and how to motivate students. The College Board encourages teachers of AP Italian and college/university professors who teach an equivalent Italian course to apply to become Readers for the AP Italian Exam. Teachers who participate in the Reading and score students’ work state that this experience provides unique insights into how student responses are scored and into expectations for student work, which they can take back and apply in their classrooms. Information about becoming an AP Exam Reader can be found by click here.

 Also, a great opportunity for both teachers and students is to visit the sites of Italian associations, one of many is the Italian Language Foundation, which encourages students with a score of 3 or more to apply for one of the Dante prizes offered to high school students, who are currently members of the Foundation (free registration for all students). Those with a score of 3 will receive a $ 75 award, those who score a 4 receive $ 100, and those with a score of 5 will receive $ 200. The Dante Award nomination process is simple and all the details are available on the ILF websiteThe organization, which promotes the teaching of Italian language and culture in the United States and the AP Italian program, it also supports the professional development of Italian teachers with free professional seminars that are available to improve their teaching, including the Advanced Exam Placement Italian Exam.

The Italian Language Foundation is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2017 Generoso Pope Foundation Scholarships for Teachers of Italian. This year seven teachers attended the training seminar from July 10 to 14, 2017, at the Mills College in San Francisco, under the auspices of Middlebury College, and their names are:

Nicholas Matros: Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School, Setauket, NY.

Jonathan Piccirillo: Garden City High School, Flushing, NY.

Milenny Then: New Heights Acadamy Charter School, NY, NY.

Cosimo Mazzaferro: Felix Festa Middle School, West Nyack, NY.

Karen Murano: Stratford High School, Stratford, CT.

Carolyn Willcox: Venice High School, Los Angeles, CA.

Raman Montanaro: Oxford High School, Oxford, CT.


These seminars were conducted by professors Bruna Boyle and Lucrezia Lindia, in collaboration with Professor Antonio Vitti, director of the Summer Language Program at Middlebury College. Upcoming workshops for Italian teachers will be published on the ILF website. Anyone interested may also contact ILF directly at the following address:


Translated by Marcia Arndt, Director, AP World Languages and Cultures, The College Board.

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