Graduating high school seniors throughout California could be awarded a “State Seal of Biliteracy” for proficiency in two languages if Governor Jerry Brown approves legislation approved by the state Legislature last week.
AB 815 was authored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, who is chairperson of the Assembly Education Committee, with Speaker John Perez her principal coauthor. The bill would authorize Torlakson to establish the Seal of Bilteracy to “recognize high school graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in one or more languages in addition to English.”
The bill requires school districts to identify who qualifies for the seal, and to place “an appropriate insignia” on either a student’s diploma or transcript.
The award could go to a student whose native language is English and acquires proficiency in a foreign language. But it could equally go to an immigrant student in California who is fluent in another language—and becomes proficient in English.
In 1998, Californians approved Proposition 227, which effectively banned bilingual education and required students to learn English in “structured English immersion” classes.
The proposal for the seal was included in the report issued by the transition team for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson this spring. “A Blueprint for Great Schools,” called for “recognizing California students for being literate in English and one or more additional languages by awarding a State Seal of Biliteracy.”
The seal has been promoted for years by an organization called “Californians Together,” founded after the passage of Proposition 227. Among other activities, the organization promotes effective practices for educating students designated as “English learners”—now one in four students in California’s public schools.
This is the third time that the Legislature has endorsed the Seal of Biliteracy idea, but former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the first two attempts.
The Executive Director of Californians Together is Shelly Spiegel-Coleman—who also was a member of Torlakson’s transition team that issued the “Blueprint for Great Success” report containing the recommendation. Spiegel-Coleman, a former bilingual education teacher, has been a leader in promoting bilingual education in California, and was also an opponent of Prop. 227.
But Spiegel-Coleman said that the legislation was not intended as a rebuff to Prop. 227, but rather as way to “take a fresh look at the benefits of students being equipped in multiple languages.”
Some 59 schools districts throughout the state are already awarding their own “seal of biliteracy” to many of their students, according to Spiegel-Coleman.
They include Glendale Unified (one of the first to adopt the seal), Anaheim, Los Angeles, Modesto, Pasadena, San Francisco, San Jose and Ventura, along with smaller districts such as Ceres, Colton, Laton, Rowland and Waterford.
Last June, for example, Azusa Unified in the Inland Empire awarded the seal to students with proficiency in both English and an astonishing array of languages ranging from Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese to Armenian, Arabic, Korean, French, Italian, and German.
Brownley’s bill making the seal official for the entire state would allow Torlakson to use funds currently used for the Golden State Seal Merit Diploma, a seal also attached to a high school diploma for academic achievement. He would be authorized to set up a way to deliver the seals to districts electronically.
School districts could still give their own seal, as many currently are, but by setting uniform standards for awarding a statewide seal will help both universities attended by students who receive one as well employers get a better idea of just how competent high school graduates are in a foreign language, said Spiegel-Coleman.
Given the years it takes to become proficient in a language she underscored the importance of motivating students much earlier to become bilingual. “We need to get kids prepared long before they are seniors in high school,” she said.
Don’t know if your school district is offering a Seal of Biliteracy, or is considering doing so? Check out this list to find out.
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