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Catching Up on Statewide Efforts to Promote Bilingualism

Four national professional organizations have banded together to draft recommendations for the seal of biliteracy—a special recognition on high school diplomas and transcripts for graduates who demonstrate fluency in two or more languages.

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages; the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages; the National Association for Bilingual Education; and the TESOL International Association, the organization for teachers who specialize in working with English-learners, developed the recommendations in this five-page document.

Education Week reported last July that more states are supporting bilingualism with the special seals on diplomas. With even more states considering adding the seal, the groups sought to offer state lawmakers and education officials a guide for best practices to "ensure consistency in the meaning" of the recognition.

"As more states and local education entities consider the merits of formally recognizing the multilingual and multicultural abilities of their graduates as strong assets in today's global society, the members ... enthusiastically endorse these guidelines as a viable source of guidance backed by current research and best practices," National Council of State Supervisors for Languages President Ryan Wertz said in a statement.

The recommendations include allowances for students who are literate in Latin and Classical Greek, American Sign Language and Native American languages.

Among the recommendations:

  • ELLs should demonstrate proficiency on state assessments for English language arts for all students and English language development for English-learners.
  • Students seeking to demonstrate proficiency in another language should achieve a state-determined minimum score on any number of tests, including AP or International Baccalaureate exams, and tribal language assessments.
  • Local districts and schools should make the awarding of the Seal of Biliteracy visible at graduation and senior award ceremonies.

Educators say that earning the seal could give students an advantage, opening the door for college scholarships, internships and jobs that require proficiency in a language other than English.

"This is an unprecedented collaboration by language educators to guide states in the implementation of the Seal of Biliteracy to ensure that students in each state are encouraged to demonstrate language proficiency in both English and another language," Jacque Van Houten, president of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language, said in a statement.

"The seal serves to certify attainment of biliteracy for students, employers and universities. It is a statement of accomplishment that helps to signal evidence of a student's readiness for career and college, and for engagement as a global citizen."

Californians Together spearheaded the national push for biliteracy seals. After securing approval in their home state, the English-language learner advocacy group took the campaign to other states, urging lawmakers to reward students who have attained a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing one or more languages in addition to English.

Indiana is the latest state looking to boost bilingualism among K-12 students by offering special recognition on high school diplomas for graduates who demonstrate fluency in two or more languages.

Chalkbeat Indiana reports that Republicans and Democrats in the Hoosier State are touting a bill that would award the graduation seal when a student "completes a minimum number of credit hours in English and foreign language classes and passes a foreign language exam."

If the Indiana legislature approves the measure and Gov. Mike Pence signs it into law, the state board of education would administer the program and choose the exam. English-language learners who demonstrate proficiency in both their native language and English would also be eligible to earn special recognition on their diplomas.

Lawmakers in California, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and Washington state have already approved bilingual seals. The Chicago public schools also approved its own seal in part because the state law in Illinois does not require individual districts to participate.

Proposals for seals of biliteracy are also under consideration in Massachusetts, Nevada, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia.

Here's a link to Education Week's past coverage of seals of biliteracy.

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