For the first time, graduating seniors from around California – more than 10,000 – have been awarded a state “seal” indicating their proficiency in two languages.

The award, which consists of a gold seal affixed to a student’s high school diploma, is the result of legislation (AB 815) authored by Assemblymember Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) and  signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.

Some 59 districts around the state were already awarding their own seal of biliteracy, but this is the first time that it has been done statewide.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority – 70 percent – of those earning the seal demonstrated proficiency in Spanish, followed by French (10 percent) and Mandarin (7 percent).  Some 2 percent of students were proficient in Japanese, with a similar percentage in Cantonese and German. Altogether, students with proficiency in 40 different languages, including American sign language, were awarded the seal.

The California Department of Education could not provide a breakdown as to what proportion of those receiving the seal were native English speakers.

Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, executive director of Californians Together, which advocated on behalf of the seal for many years, earlier told EdSource that the seal was not intended to be a rebuff to Proposition 227, the 1998 initiative effectively banning bilingual education in California. Rather, she said, it is a way to “take a fresh look at the benefits of students being equipped in multiple languages.”

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