GPT needs to be eliminated

by Erin Ghere

This week I hit the home stretch: only six weeks until I take the Graduation Proficiency Test and – by the grace of God – receive my degree from this University.

It’s been a long, hard road to get to this point. After fulfilling countless requirements in the College of Liberal Arts, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the political science and history departments, as well as struggling through four Spanish classes – including one I had to retake – I now have to sweat through one more giant test. I don’t understand why the first four finals weren’t enough.

I am certainly not the only student who feels this way. In Spanish classes, among friends and in official proceedings, students have bemoaned this stress-inducing exam for years. During the 1999-2000 school year, the University’s Student Senate passed a proposal to eliminate the GPT. It was denied by the school administration. And one pair of students running in the Minnesota Student Association elections last spring campaigned, saying they would abolish the test, arguing the University does not require any kind of graduation test for its other requirements.

Proponents of the GPT claim it decreases classroom apathy and provides a common method of evaluation for all students. Opponents say it is redundant and stressful for students who have already completed two years of language education.

To get out of the language requirement, I thought about switching colleges or even creating my own major. In fact, I know someone who dropped out of a Spanish course and created his major just because he was struggling so much.

During my junior year, I knew I had to start my language classes, but all the Spanish classes were full. I ended up registering for French but found it even more difficult and quit after one quarter. When I was finally able to enroll in Spanish, it had been almost four years since my high school courses. I passed Spanish 1022 (for those who already studied the language in high school) but flunked Spanish 1003. I retook the class and am now enrolled in Spanish 1004.

It’s been a long and frustrating journey. By the time you’re 22 and have five years of college under your belt, beginning another course should be a breeze. But the night before this class began, I was wrought with anxiety over whether my classmates would notice I’m barely hanging on by a string. As I walked out the door Monday morning, I told my fiancée I was off to make a fool of myself. I loathe speaking during class because my speech is so choppy and broken. Half of the time, I can’t remember the words to get my ideas across.

My point is this: After all of my course work I should not have to pass one more thing, especially when my graduation is hinging on it. I am leaving this University with a degree in journalism and political science, yet I didn’t have to take any tests to prove my proficiency in either of those areas – the areas I have specialized in for the past five years. I have put more time into this language than any of my other liberal arts requirements.

I am not questioning or criticizing the value of knowing a second language. When my travels have taken me to Mexico, I have been fortunate enough to be able to read the signs and understand taxi drivers and vendors. Understanding another language is invaluable, even for those who might not often use that knowledge. I am confident I will be able to competently interact with Spanish speakers.

The University’s purpose is for students to be able to understand and communicate in another language. The GPT does not further facilitate that purpose. University officials should be confident with the courses they sanction and the instructors they pay without having to force students to endure a stressful, often graduation-inhibiting exam.

One argument for the GPT is it sets an across-the-board evaluation standard for students. But every Spanish class I have taken has an identical syllabus with every other course at that level. Instructors do not choose the curriculum; therefore, an across-the-board standard is already in place.

In addition, officials cite statistics showing most students pass the GPT on their first try and many more pass on their second try. But in my current Spanish class, four other students cannot graduate because of the language requirement. I have several friends who passed the GPT with flying colors and without worry. But I have many more friends from all majors and ability levels who, after already committing two years to their language program, still found the test extremely stressful.

Other colleges of the University have realized this redundancy and most only require students to take one year of language. There is no GPT requirement.

I realize the merit of a University language requirement, but I do not see the benefit of a proficiency test after students have already completed two years of study. A more reasonable language requirement could demand only one year of study and yet still achieve the goal of educating students in a second language.