Bilingual Buds, the language immersion preschool and primary school specializing in Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, has announced the results of a schoolwide oral proficiency assessment. All Bilingual Buds students age three and above were tested using the standardized Student Oral Proficiency Assessment (SOPA) protocols developed by the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), and the results pointed to high levels of speaking ability, particularly among primary students in the school's five-day program.

Nine out of 14 kindergarten and 1st-grade students in the Mandarin Chinese program scored in the third and fourth highest SOPA rating categories. There are nine categories in all, ranging from Junior Novice Low to Junior Advanced High. Four students were rated in the Junior Advanced Low category, the third highest, and five students were rated in the Junior Intermediate High category, the fourth highest. Of the 14 kindergarten and 1st-grade students, 11 demonstrated significant improvement over their previous year's scores, with several moving up as many as three SOPA levels in one year. (The three remaining students in the class were new students this year and therefore had no ratings to compare against from last year.)

A total of 81 students (73 Mandarin and 8 Spanish) were tested in late April, representing all grade levels and programs offered by the school, including preschool, supplemental preschool, and after-school programs. Results are only just being announced now because the Mandarin students' impressive scores prompted additional analysis and verification. The results of students in the Spanish program, a new offering this year, are considered benchmark ratings.

"The Student Oral Proficiency Assessment is designed to allow students to demonstrate their language skills and knowledge," said Lynn Thompson, language assessment specialist in the Foreign Language Education Division at CAL. "Bilingual Buds has effectively used the SOPA to help determine the proficiency of students in their program and to inform additional instruction."

"This is our third year conducting SOPA assessments, and we are extremely pleased to see the yearly progression of our students and to know that they are achieving strong oral proficiency levels given their ages and backgrounds," said Sharon Huang, director and founder of Bilingual Buds. "We believe these strong scores are helped by the fact that we begin language learning at age 2, which is earlier than most programs, and by our very low student-to-teacher ratio."

Huang added, "It's important to note that most of our students are non-heritage learners--meaning that they don't come from families where Mandarin is actively spoken in the home." "In an immersion environment, children learn day-to-day communication quickly and naturally because they are motivated to connect with their teacher, to socialize with their peers, and to express their needs," said Carina Bellmann, Bilingual Buds' director of early childhood education. "Our schoolwide SOPA exam has become a valuable tool for documenting and sharing what our teachers witness in the classroom every day."

The tests were conducted at Bilingual Buds with two teachers administering the exam to pairs of children. During the testing, students took part in a dialogue on general topics, interpreted pictures in a storybook, and described the story using vocabulary words, or in some cases told the story in their own words. Each interview was videotaped and then assessed using a scoring rubric. To ensure accuracy, sample videotapes of the SOPA exams representing the range of student scores were then sent to CAL in Washington, D.C., where Center staff viewed the footage and corroborated Bilingual Buds' test results.

"Bilingual Buds parents already know that they don't have to be bilingual to have bilingual children," said Huang. "Hopefully, these SOPA scores will help reinforce that message."