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Chicago Schools to Offer Biliteracy Seal, Latino Studies Curriculum

The Chicago public schools will offer a special seal for the diplomas of bilingual high school graduates.

Students from 20 Chicago high schools will be able to earn the "seal of biliteracy" this year. The program will expand to all the city's high schools for the 2015-16 school year.

To earn the seal, students will need an ACT score of 18 or higher in English and 22 or higher in reading. English-language learners can substitute a WIDA, or World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment, test.

In the secondary language, students must earn an AP score of 4 or 5 on the corresponding foreign language exam, an International Baccalaureate score of 4 or higher on a language assessment, or an Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages score of "intermediate high" or higher.

Students testing for American Sign Language and those with disabilities will be deemed eligible for a seal of biliteracy through an alternative process.

Illinois is among a growing number of states that offer special recognition on high school diplomas for graduates who demonstrate fluency in two or more languages. But the state law does not require districts to participate.

The push for recognition stems in part from the expansion of dual-language programs across public schools that bring both native English-speakers and English-language learners together into classrooms to learn all academic content in English and the target language.

Earning the seal could give students an advantage, opening the door for college scholarships, internships and jobs that require proficiency in foreign language, educators say.

Lawmakers established Illinois' biliteracy seal in August 2013, based on the concept that "proficiency in multiple languages is critical in enabling this state to participate effectively in a global, political, social, and economic context and in expanding trade with other countries."

The Chicago schools also will offer an interdisciplinary curriculum focusing on the study of Latino and Latin American heritage and culture, chief executive officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett planned to announce today.

More than 45 percent of students in the district identify as Hispanic.

According to a release from the district, the curriculum will include "content on the history, arts and cultural diversity of the Americas" and cover the "cultural diversity of the Americas, including Central and South America and the Caribbean."

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