The Seal of Biliteracy is an award given by a school, school district or county office of education in recognition of students who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation. The Seal of Biliteracy takes the form of a seal that appears on the transcript or diploma of the graduating senior and is a statement of accomplishment for future employers and for college admissions. In addition to the Seal of Biliteracy that marks attainment of high level mastery or two or more languages, schools and districts are also instituting Bilingual Pathway Awards, recognizing significant steps towards developing biliteracy along a student’s trajectory from preschool into high school.
The purposes for instituting the Seal of Biliteracy and the Pathways to Biliteracy Awards are numerous:
There are six steps to take towards implementing a Seal of Biliteracy effort:
A first step towards implementing a Seal of Biliteracy or Pathway Award is to clarify your school, community, district or state’s purpose for giving the awards and to articulate the “frame” and rationale that will resonate in your community. In one community, the emphasis on 21st century skills and jobs may resonate most deeply. In another, emphasizing learning respect for diversity and bringing students together across communities may be the most powerful rationale.
The specific purposes and rationale lead to the creation of a policy. It is important that a governing body create the award through policy. This is what gives it the weight of a statement by the schooling system that the skills of bilingualism have value. It is this process that provides the opportunity for a community to articulate how and why language diversity is important.
The process of creating the policy might begin with assembling a Working Group or Task Force of district staff, teachers of English Learners and World Language teachers to think through how the award might work in their community, and who potential supporters might be. For example, in Anaheim Union High School District in southern California, a small working group drafted a policy statement tying the Seal of Biliteracy to a Board resolution for 21st century learning and to the district’s strategic plan for implementing 21st century education. The passage of policy establishing the award thus became part of a broader district commitment to education for the new century.
In San Francisco Unified School District the Board passed a resolution stating: “Our vision is to prepare students to become global citizens in multilingual/ multicultural world by providing every student the opportunity to graduate proficient in English and at least one other language through participation in a well articulated PreK 12 world language program.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District prefaced their policy establishing the Seal of Biliteracy with the following statement of purpose: “Biliteracy awards advance the district’s commitment that every student graduates prepared and equipped with the knowledge and skills to participate successfully in college, career, and a diverse 21st century society. Additionally, the awards build upon the rich linguistic and cultural assets of the district and communicate that mastery of two or more languages is an important skill that is advantageous in an ever shrinking global society.”
A high school Seal of Biliteracy is awarded upon attainment of a high level of proficiency in two or more languages. In addition to the High School Seal, awards can be provided for students along the path toward attainment. To encourage students to study languages and develop mastery in multiple languages, Pathway awards are most powerful when bestowed at crucial points along the schooling journey where student attitudes about bilingualism may be changing or where students may be facing choices about enrolling in programs and courses that can lead to biliteracy. These points include, for example:
Pathway awards may be given in recognition of attainment of an age-appropriate level of skill in mastering two or more languages or in recognition of participation in activities involving bilingualism.
The criteria for the high school Seal of Biliteracy has been defined as a standard statewide. Some districts have added to that criteria, strengthening recognition of additional aspects of biliteracy. Pathway awards can be defined by districts. Sample criteria for pathway awards follows.
The purpose of the award at preschool “graduation” is to help young children and their families feel pride and excitement about becoming bilingual. As children enter Kindergarten, their families make an important decision about the kind of language program in which they will enroll their children. For this reason, it is an important moment in the educational journey to support families to think about the value they place on bilingualism for their child and to provide information about dual language immersion (two way) programs, bilingual programs, heritage language programs and other options. Developmentally, this is also an important phase in which children’s attitudes about their home language, and about people who speak languages other than their own are being shaped. The Pathway to Bilingualism award is a statement of values. It is a participation award given to all children in preschool programs that meet criteria demonstrating active support for the development of dual language children. The program criteria include:
The intent of the Elementary School “Bilingual Service and Participation Award” (BPSA) is to encourage students along the path of bilingualism for students who are not actually in a dual language or bilingual program leading to biliteracy. This can be awarded at the end of elementary school. The criteria might include:
This award is designed to measure attainment of age-appropriate biliteracy for students who have been in Immersion, Heritage, Foreign Language, Two-Way Bilingual Immersion, Dual Language, or maintenance bilingual programs. Criteria could include:
Middle School Awards can be presented to students on the path to biliteracy (Service and Participation) or for attainment of a specified level of biliteracy (Biliteracy Attainment Award).
This award is designed to reward engagement in pursuit of language skills in two or more languages, to affirm positive attitudes towards multilingualism, and to validate use of multiple languages for all students. Requirements may include:
This award is designed to set a standard for high level biliteracy attainment for students in a Two- Way, Heritage, Immersion, World Language, or Dual Language program. All students, English fluent and English Learners, might be required to meet the following performance standards:
The California State Seal of Biliteracy Criteria established in legislation certifies attainment of a high level of proficiency in two or more languages. The English criteria includes:
The criteria for proficiency in a language other than English is one of the following:
For procedures to request and grant the State Seal of Biliteracy go to the California State Seal of Biliteracy web page at www.cde.ca.gov/sp/el/er/sealofbiliteracy.asp
Some districts have elected to add additional criteria, such as use of biliteracy skills during community service activities, a district writing assessment and rubric (with a specified level of attainment), an oral interview or oral presentation assessment and rubric, use of the Linguafolio, or other district-developed performance criteria. For copies of writing prompts, writing rubrics and other assessment tools used by districts in the Seal of Biliteracy process, see the resources below each step.
The power of the Seal of Biliteracy as a means to encourage study of multiple languages depends upon a school and district having outreach strategies to ensure that students know about the Seal of Biliteracy. It is also important that students take the individual affirmative step of submitting an application for the Seal of Biliteracy Award. To do so, they need adequate notice about the application process and an understanding of the criteria. Outreach strategies have included, for example, school assemblies at the start of the school year focusing on the value of mastering two or more languages and featuring students who have received the Seal of Biliteracy. One district holds class meetings with all entering 9th graders to talk about the Seal and describe the components of a school program leading to the Seal. District brochures are distributed so students understand the process and criteria.
The application may be as simple as a statement of interest or may include short essays about the students’ language history. The application process is viewed by some districts as an opportunity for student reflection about their language experiences. For example, the Stanislaus County Office of Education application asks:.
What language(s) did you first learn to speak in your home? Describe your family background in regard to languages, motivation to learn other languages, travel, etc. (200-word maximum)
Provide a brief history of learning other languages. Include the languages you have learned in school as well as out of school, and describe how you use the language(s) currently. (200-word maximum)
What important differences are there between the languages you have learned? What features of the languages might make it easier or more difficult than other languages? (200-word maximum)
Provide a brief description of your interaction and experiences with the languages and cultural groups. (200-word maximum)
List any successes or culminating events/experiences you have had in your target language(s). Include results of successful language tests or competitions which you have completed as well as any certificates or course grades you have earned. (200-word maximum)
It is important to plan a school year ahead to allow sufficient time for the outreach, application, assessment, and award process.
Awards can be granted at a school or district reception, celebration, or special award assembly. They can also be awarded as part of the school graduation. Awards have included medallions, ribbons, cords, and stoles for having met the basic criteria for the Seal. In addition, a Seal is affixed to the transcripts or diplomas of graduating seniors along with a description of the criteria met. Some districts have added levels of awards. For example, Glendale Unified School District awards trophies to students who demonstrate mastery in three or more languages as well as special awards for the students who have scored the highest in each language on district assessments.
The purpose of the Seal of Biliteracy is to honor the skills and demonstrate the value of mastery of two or more languages. Seeking endorsements sends the message to students and parents that these skills are valued more widely than just by the school and district. It also engages community groups, corporate and business entities, and professional associations in stating their own sense of value attached to the skills of biliteracy.
Endorsements may take the form of a formal resolution or letters of support, such as the endorsements of the California School Boards Association, Association of California School Administrators, California Federation of Teachers, the California Teachers Association, “the Los Angeles, San Jose Silicon Valley, and El Monte Chambers of Commerce,“ and others. (See the Californians Together website for copies of these resolutions.)
The sponsorships may take the form of sponsoring the award celebration or of the awards themselves. Velázquez Press designed, produced, and donates the Biliteracy Recognition Medals to school districts that have adopted the Seal of Biliteracy. Velázquez Press believes the “Seal of Bileteracy” will encourage ELL students to succeed in school and improve graduation rates. Velázquez Press will sponsor school districts who want to adopt the “Seal of Biliteracy” by providing supporting materials that include guidelines, seals and award medals. For more information please visit VelazquezPress.com or contact them at 626-448-3448 or firstname.lastname@example.org