A new level of achievement: The Seal of Biliteracy

By Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer

The Seal of Biliteracy

Caps and gowns, pomp and circumstance, faculty and family buzzing about students’ incredible achievements. Graduation ceremonies never fail to inspire. While some students graduate with honors, a testament to the extra requirements they’ve met, others are awarded the Seal of Biliteracy, “a statement of accomplishment that helps to signal evidence of a student’s readiness for career and college, and for engagement as a global citizen” (Seal of Biliteracy Guidelines, 2015). Given by the states’ departments of education or local districts, the Seal of Biliteracy is an award given to high-school seniors upon graduation in recognition of having achieved the state-determined level of proficiency in English as well as one or more additional languages—certifying their biliteracy for future employers and universities.

Originating in California, the Seal of Biliteracy has been approved in 28 states and is in the initial stages of approval in 12 states and under consideration in two more states. Recommendations for implementation were drafted by four national organizations: The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), The National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE), the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL), and the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) International Association.

Seal of Biliteracy

What are the benefits of earning the Seal of Biliteracy?

All students are eligible to earn the Seal of Biliteracy and, according to the guidelines, the focus is on achieving the level of proficiency required for English and one or more other languages, acknowledging that the level of proficiency may be different for these languages. The options for demonstrating language proficiency need to show a student’s ability to use the language, not simply show knowledge of it.

An understanding of the true benefit of being awarded the Seal of Biliteracy was perhaps best expressed by this response from a student being asked about it by Chicago Tribune reporter Diane Rado: “When asked I tell someone that I got a four or five on the Spanish Advanced Placement Exam, they say, ‘That’s nice.’ They don’t really know what that number means or how hard the test was. When I say that I received the Seal of Biliteracy, they understand that I have skills in two languages—even my boss gets it and is impressed.”

Guidelines and recommendations

The Seal of Biliteracy includes guidelines and multiple recommendations for states to evaluate students’ proficiency in English, including state English language arts assessments for all students and state English language development assessments for English Learners. Recommendations for languages other than English include the Advanced Placement Exam, the International Baccalaureate Exam, and several others.

In addition to recommendations for states, the Seal of Biliteracy guidelines also recommend that students keep a portfolio of their language performance, tracking improvement and progress toward the level required by their state. Among the elements suggested for the portfolio is an assessment measure outside those provided for specific courses.

Empowering students

Having students track their own improvement and progress toward the level required by their state can empower students to influence their own path toward mastery. With Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360® and guidance from educators, students can select books in English or Spanish that are meaningful and relevant to them and driven by their own interests. They can also print their own TOPS reports to keep in their portfolio, giving them the opportunity to track the book level and percentage correct for each book’s reading comprehension quiz. In addition, educators can print Student Performance Record reports at regular intervals during the school year, providing a summary of all the books students have read as well as book levels and percentages correct on reading comprehension quizzes by language, which students can also keep in their portfolio. These reports empower students, which is the true goal of student agency.

Imagine students taking ownership of their learning in two languages. Now that is impressive!

Does your school or district encourage students to achieve the Seal of Biliteracy? What are your thoughts on the topic? Let us know in the comments below, post on our Facebook page, or tweet us at @RenLearnUS!

Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer
Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer
Carol Johnson is a bilingual educator and National Education Officer at Renaissance. She holds a PhD in Second Language Acquisition & Teaching, specializing in how people learn second languages.

38 Comments

  1. Dvawn Maza says:

    Interesting

    • Dee Johnson says:

      Our school encourages our students to check out Spanish and English books,it’s so important to know more than one language!

  2. Mr. Sanchez says:

    I am from Texas and I see that we have been approved to give the award of the Seal of Biliteracy. I am a bilingual teacher in a district that encourages students to not only be bilingual but also biliterate. It gives me great joy to know that my students will now be able to show this accomplishment with the Seal of Biliteracy award.

    • Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer says:

      That’s correct, Texas is one of the 28 states currently awarding the Seal of Biliteracy. It’s great to know your students can receive this award! Thank you for all that you do, Mr. Sanchez!

  3. Sharla says:

    A great way to encourage students to explore foreign language and culture.

  4. Lauren Thrasher says:

    I agree with the empowerment piece. What a wonderful thing to be able to say you have graduated and have this award to show your accomplishments.

    • Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer says:

      Thank you for your comment, Lauren! Empowering students to pursue their interests is one of my favorite things about the Seal of Biliteracy.

  5. Lloyd Goldberg says:

    I speak to my parents and students that merely speaking a second language is good but not good enough. Reading and writing the second language is what sets you apart.

  6. Andrea says:

    Our district used to teach Spanish at the elementary level, but did away with it 15 years ago. Worst. Idea. Ever! My current students find learning another language intetesting and would like to learn more.

  7. Rita Platt says:

    My husband’s school district awards the seal and we think it’s great.

  8. Amy says:

    Hmmm, I’m sure in some States and certain professions this may be more important than in others. It seems more like a sticker or gold star for someone who took a language in high school than something truly meaningful. I graduated with a regents diploma from high school…does this really matter twenty years later? I’m sure it doesn’t. We don’t all need certificates to feel validated or valued.

  9. Jody Steinhaus says:

    Very interesting and informative article. I’m glad to know more about the Seal of Biliteracy.

  10. Laura says:

    I had my first bilingual student this year. She was only here for 3 months but it was an interesting experience.

  11. Alecia Walkuski says:

    The Seal of Biliteracy sounds like a wonderful award for students. It would be great if my district pursued this accolade.

    • Liana Ferrer says:

      It does sound like a good idea and I am going to find out if it is something that we could implement at our school. Our bilingual learners are primarily French or Creole speaking. I will still look into whether it is achievable or not.

      • Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer says:

        Liana, you bring up an important point—this is not limited to Spanish. There is much more information about how students can demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English at: http://sealofbiliteracy.org/.

    • Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer says:

      Hello, Alecia! I’m not sure where you live, but here’s a link to see the status for each state: http://sealofbiliteracy.org/.

  12. This is interesting and very current! We have more and more diversity in our student populations and are school need to be prepared for their needs.

  13. Nicole Erwin says:

    interesting

  14. Angie Edwards says:

    It would be difficult but beneficial for the graduates.

  15. Thonisha Davis says:

    I’ve never heard of this until now.

  16. carolina says:

    It is difficult but doable.

  17. Trinette Frazier says:

    Hmm… I wonder if my student would embrace this challenge.

  18. Virginia Travis says:

    I am bilingual and I wish this had been available when I graduated!

  19. Kim says:

    I found this article very interesting. Certainly is food for thought.

  20. LQT says:

    This is great, our students would love the bi-literacy seal. Our students are learning to be bi-literate as our campus is dual language.

  21. Carly says:

    My child would have loved this opportunity. Unfortunately, I live in a state where diversity is not highly regarded, nor is spending dollars on programs that encourage diversity, which bilingual learning does do.

  22. Ami K. Edwards says:

    I think this is a good idea.

  23. Katie Wiltz says:

    Definitely something my district needs to look into, too!

  24. Mary says:

    Challenging for students…but a great opportunity for those who are self-motivated!

  25. Erika Salinas says:

    Yes, our school district in fact promotes biliteracy. We have dual language schools, the two languages being English and Spanish.

    • Erika Salinas says:

      Sorry forgot to add… I never knew that there was such award. So I’m not sure if the school district awards it or not.

      • Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer Carol Johnson, PhD, National Education Officer says:

        The great thing about dual language programs is having native speakers of each language working side by side, each benefiting from the other’s proficiency, and valuing each other’s strengths.

  26. Belinda says:

    My school and district promote bilingual literacy…. it’s great that the students are given the opportunity to show their skills in languages other than English….

  27. Karen p. says:

    i am at an elementary school and we do not promote this. However, my son, who is in high school will get his seal on his diploma for Italian. I think this is an awesome opportunity for all students!

  28. Terri says:

    I’m excited that Texas is one of the states awarding this seal! Our elementary students are offered Dual Language classrooms. The results can be amazing. Learning two or more languages can only be a plus! Good to know that hard work is recognized at graduation time.

  29. P R says:

    I didn’t know about this. I teach in the Elementary school level. It would be nice if they created “levels” of this award such as primary (K-2), intermediate (3-5), and junior (6-8). It would increase the chance that students would end up with a second fluent language in both written language as well as conversational language. I also wonder if they would implement AR tests that would reflect those students’ languages of study.

  30. Katie Peugh says:

    I think it is absolutely wonderful!