By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2010; 7:31 PM
The College Board announced on Wednesday the revival of the Advanced Placement test in Italian, setting the stage for a renaissance in the study of the language of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci in U.S. high schools.
Italian teachers had feared nothing less than the demise of their discipline when the college-preparatory nonprofit organization eliminated AP Italian last year, saying the program was underfunded.
Wednesday's announcement signaled the success of a two-year lobbying campaign by advocates of Italian language and culture in U.S. schools. The turning point came when the Cuomo family, cast in the role of cultural ambassadors, secured a financial commitment from the Italian government.
"These things don't happen without that level of support. And we are very grateful to Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi for that," said Margaret Cuomo, daughter of former New York governor Mario Cuomo and sister of Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo.
The program will be reinstated in fall 2011; the first tests will be given in spring 2012.
The College Board eliminated AP Italian in a broader purge of four poorly enrolled AP tests in 2008 and 2009, the first substantial retrenchment in AP's five decades. Tests in Italian, Latin literature, French literature and computer science AB each attracted only a few thousand students a year, compared with hundreds of thousands in such popular subjects as U.S. history and English literature.
The nonprofit organization gave proponents of Italian a year to raise money to save the test. After all, it was a relatively new exam, first offered in 2006, and participation was growing. But Margaret Cuomo's Italian Language Foundation couldn't raise the $1.5 million sought by the College Board to sustain it.
The revival of AP Italian began with a 2008 meeting between the Cuomos and Gianni Letta, Italy's undersecretary of state. Italy agreed to become an equal partner, providing funds to match those raised by Margaret Cuomo's group.
Italian Ambassador Giulio Terzi offered an e-mailed statement:
"Today is an important day for those who recognize the role of Italian language in the development of human society, economy and culture: Dante's Italian in literature; Gaetano Filangieri's in his letters to Benjamin Franklin on the U.S. Constitution; Federico Fellini's and Pier Paolo Pasolini's in modern cinematography; the Italian of Valentino in design and fashion; the Italian in science and technology spoken by Enrico Fermi and today by the 70 physicists working at the Fermilab in Illinois."
Italian has never claimed more than a tiny percentage of foreign-language study in U.S. schools. But the language consistently ranks high on surveys that ask students what language they would like to study. The number of Italian students rose by one-fifth, to 77,615, between 2005 and 2008, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the program has taken a hit since then, a result of the economic downturn as well as the hiatus in AP testing, said Bret Lovejoy, executive director of the association.
"We have seen a number of language program cuts across the board, and I think you can presume that some of it is due to the fact that the AP exam is no longer offered," he said.
High school students tend to look for AP courses when choosing a foreign language, to give them a leg up in applying to college. AP tests have been continuously offered in Spanish, French, German, Latin, Chinese and Japanese, putting them at a competitive advantage.