Grads can tout language skills on transcript, diploma

Some students in Bellingham Public Schools strive to become fluent in a second language through high school coursework. Others are mastering English through their interactions at school and in the community while speaking a different language at home.

A new state law enables schools to recognize high levels of language proficiency with a Seal of Biliteracy. Eighty-seven students from the Class of 2016 at Bellingham, Sehome and Squalicum high schools were the first to receive this honor in the school district.

“The beauty of the Seal of Biliteracy is that it honors both kinds of students,” said Stephanie Korn, a director of teaching and learning at Bellingham Public Schools.

Students who speak English at home and learned Spanish, French or German in the classroom earned the seal by scoring high on the AP test for that language. (These three languages are the only ones offered at the AP level, but school officials are looking to expand this list.) Students who came to the schools speaking a world language at home took a credit-for-proficiency exam. In the Class of 2016, these languages included Chinese, Punjabi, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese.

Those who earned the seal received a certificate, a medallion, a gold-foil seal to affix to their diplomas, and a note on their transcript. Students whose test results were known in time were able to wear their medallions with their caps and gowns at graduation.

While the medallions certainly were sharp, what might look best to colleges and future employers are the notes on the transcripts.

“Being able to honor students with the Seal of Biliteracy provides them with a distinction that opens opportunities for them in the future,” Korn said.

Washington state was an early adopter of the Seal of Biliteracy, a national movement intended to promote language learning for the benefits it provides to our increasingly globalized economy and to students’ cognitive development.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s web page on the Seal of Biliteracy explains these advantages.

“Over 40 percent of Washington state jobs are tied to international trade, so it is critical for students to develop proficiency in English and other languages to maintain competitiveness,” the OSPI page says. “In addition to career advantages, studies also show numerous cognitive benefits for students learning more than one language, including enhanced working memory, attention, flexibility and creative thinking.”

Students interested in earning the Seal of Biliteracy should talk to their language teacher or school counselor, or visit the OSPI site for more details.

Photos: Members of Bellingham and Squalicum High School’s Class of 2016 wear biliteracy medallions at graduation.




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