Italian Program Frets Lack of AP Exam

An official from Harvard’s Italian program said that the College Board’s decision to cut the Advanced Placement Italian exam starting next year might reduce the number of undergraduates pursuing citations, secondary fields, and concentrations in the language.

Elvira G. DiFabio, the Italian program’s director of undergraduate studies, said the College Board’s decision was “really unfortunate” because AP Italian allows “more freshmen into the advanced classes” and “may even lead them to consider a concentration.”

Offering an AP Italian exam is also important because it offers an incentive for students to pursue the language in high school, she said.

DiFabio said that the positive effects of AP Italian are not confined to academics.

“Appreciation at a very advanced level of language and culture is also translated into the fact that language is not only taken as a prerequisite, but it becomes a unifying thread in who you are as an individual,” DiFabio said.

She noted that for each of the other exams that were dropped—French Literature, Latin Literature, and Computer Science AB—there is another, similar exam that students can take.

“It’s not that they’ve taken those subjects out of the AP lineup,” DiFabio said. “But Italian now has no representation in the AP program.”

(The College Board will maintain French language, Latin Vergil, and Computer Science A exams.)

The decision to cut the AP Italian program has “many serious consequences,” according to Margaret Cuomo, founder and president of the Italian Language Foundation, which led the recent efforts to raise funds to continue the AP Italian exam.

Aside from the lost opportunity for students to gain college credit, “it also affects the teachers deeply, particularly in this time of economic instability,” Cuomo said. “There are schools that are considering dropping their Italian programs altogether because there is no continuation to an AP course.”

The AP Italian exam was first offered in the 2005-2006 school year in part due to efforts by Italian-American groups and the Italian government.

In April 2008, the College Board announced that it planned to cancel four of its least popular AP exams after the 2008-2009 school year. The College Board said that it would offer the Italian exam for one more year if $1.5 million could be raised. Although the Italian Language Foundation raised over $650,000, the group ultimately fell short of the required amount.

Cuomo said she believes that the exam will come back in the future.

“The College Board left the door wide open for reinstatement of the program if funding is [found] in the next year,” she said.

“We looked to the Italian government to make up the balance,” Cuomo said. “The cancellation came as a big shock to them. They thought the timeline was more negotiable. Now they realize the impact of their inaction—they are mobilized to be proactive.”

—Staff Writer Melody Y. Hu can be reached at melodyhu@fas.harvard.edu.