After hearing from national and local experts, and analyzing the literature available on the topic, DC Immersion issues this policy statement on allowing SPED students to waive the world language high school graduation requirement and take a coding class or two level I language classes instead. DC Immersion fundamentally objects to waiving graduation requirements as to world languages for students with IEPs for three main reasons:

1. Language is too important a life skill

Language learning meets real world needs that are as important for our students with IEPs as they are for any other student.

  • Languages reward learners with a résumé differentiator – the ability to communicate and collaborate in another language across cultures and time zones
  • Languages provide access to information and collaboration in any field  – including science, technology, engineering, mathematics, business, and health care
  • Language learning develops critical literacies by practicing skills to understand, exchange opinions, and present ideas
  • Language learning develops flexible and adaptable thinking, plus an ability to function in new and unfamiliar situations
  • Language learning prepares learners to think and interact in a global community
  • Languages allow participation in in face-to-face interactions via technology, internships and volunteer opportunities in the community
  • Languages facilitate the understanding of diverse cultural perspectives and their own identity.

“Language graduation requirements should not be lowered for students with disabilities. Students with disabilities, as a group, are no less capable of learning language than they are of learning math, science, history, or other courses required for graduation. It’s also clear that proficiency in a second language is a far greater life skill for most people than, say, higher-level math. Lowering standards in this area sends the wrong message both about the importance of language learning and about the capability of students with disabilities.” Simon Rodberg, Principal, DC International School

2. Coding is not a world language

Not for any students, including SPED students. In fact, Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org states that “The only people who would suggest that computer science is akin to learning a foreign language have never coded before” and both code.org and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) agree that this should not be an either or – all students should learn world languages and coding. Here is ACTFL’s position statement on why a computer coding course is not equivalent to a world language course.

  • The study of computer coding does not allow students to gain the intercultural skills, insight, and perspectives to know how, when, and why to express what to whom. In other words, computer coding does not meet the standardsoutlined in the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages (National Standards Collaborative Board, 2015).
  • Computer coding cannot be used by people to interact and negotiate meaning with other people.
  • Computer coding cannot be used to investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the products, practices, and perspectives of a particular culture through the language.  Languages provide an historical connection to society and culture and have been around for centuries, gathering the elements of culture, preserving stories, and being used for human communication.
  • In comparison to most world languages with about 10,000 vocabulary words and grammatical structures, computer coding does not utilize large numbers of words, nor does it use them in the same ways.  A “typical computing language has a vocabulary of about 100 words, and the real work is learning how to put these words together.” (Hirotaka, 2014)
  • Merriam-Webster provides the following “simple” definition of language: the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other. Computer coding does not express thoughts or feelings.
  • Colleges and universities vary in their policies for accepting computer coding as fulfilling students’ foreign language entry requirements.
  • Computer coding is part of the larger field of computer science, which is a critical 21st century subject and deserves its own graduation requirement.  Computer science is much more related to mathematics and science than to languages.

3. Languages might be an advantage for students in dealing with their special need

In the first study of its kind, scientists show that bilingual children with autism spectrum disorders can switch mental gears more easily than those who can only speak one language. See Medical News Today article. “There are an increasing number of families with children with ASD for whom using two or more languages is a common and valued practice and, as we know, in bilingual societies such as ours in Montreal, speaking only one language can be a significant obstacle in adulthood for employment, educational, and community opportunities.” Ana Maria Gonzalez-Barrero, Ph.D.

If anything, the way languages are taught needs to be adapted to the different needs of children with special needs, as this Guardian article suggests. For example, Dr Judit Kormos of the University of Lancaster says teaching methods should be adapted for dyslexic students, rather than taking them out of language classes. “Dyslexic students can learn another language quite successfully and they have to be given a chance. The teacher just needs to be aware of the dyslexia and teach slightly differently: much more visually, acting things out and explaining things a bit more explicitly than they would to other students. Some people are more receptive to audio channels of learning, others to visual, so using a combination of the two can be really effective.”