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California to Offer 'Seal of Biliteracy' to High School Graduates

In California, where the voter-approved initiative Proposition 227 (passed in 1998) has all but ended bilingual education in public schools, a new state 'seal of biliteracy' has been established by the legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown.

The seal, which will be affixed to diplomas or high school transcripts, will be issued to high school graduates who demonstrate fluency in English and another language, including American Sign Language. A number of school districts around California began issuing their own seals during the last few years, and as of January 1, the state superintendent will begin issuing the recognition to students who graduate from high schools in districts that opt to participate.

The biliteracy seal has been strongly pushed by Californians Together, a nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of English-language learners. The seal, however, is intended for all students, not just those who are learning English.

Obtaining the seal is no easy feat. Among other requirements, students must demonstrate proficiency in one or more languages other than English in one of four ways: Passing an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam with a passing score of 3 or higher; completing a four-year high school course in the same foreign language with an overall grade point average of at least 3.0; passing a district's foreign-language exam at a proficient level or higher; or passing a foreign government's approved language exam.

Nearly 60 school districts in California are already issuing the seal. It will be interesting to see how many other districts join in once the seal goes statewide in January and if the idea will catch on in other states. Earlier this year, the program captured high-profile attention at the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, which branded it an innovation for English-language learners.

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