Seal of Biliteracy
The Seal of Biliteracy is an Honor Worth Celebrating
By Dr. Lisa Stevenson, Director of Instruction
Marshalltown Community School District (MCSD) will offer the Seal of Biliteracy to eligible graduates earning this distinction beginning with the Class of 2019. The Seal of Biliteracy is an award given by a public school district to recognize students who have attained proficiency in two or more languages, one of which is English, by high school graduation. Governor Kim Reynolds signed SF475 into law during the 2018 legislative session which made the Seal of Biliteracy a reality for Iowa’s youth who have acquired literacy in English and at least one other language. Being able to know, use, and be literate in English is a requirement for all of Marshalltown High School graduates. The Seal of Biliteracy takes this requirement a step further as graduates not only know, use, and are literate in English, but also have those same skills in a language other than English.
Being biliterate is different than being bilingual. Bilinguals, by definition, can speak and understand oral discourse in two or more languages. Biliterates, however, can speak, understand, read, and write in two or more languages. Why is it important to be biliterate? Bilingualism and biliteracy gives individual students advantages in the college application and scholarship system. Biliterates also are preferred in many job listings and careers. Biliterate students are better learners and thinkers generally and are able to close the opportunity gap sooner than their monolingual peers. Cities like Marshalltown and even smaller communities reap the benefits of a biliterate population as they grow their businesses in a global and international way which expands their reach, clients, and profits.
MCSD values the assets of all students and wants to emphasize that language skills are an asset, too. The language diversity of our students and their families is an advantage in many ways and deeply connects students with their cultural identities. A Biliteracy Seal Committee was formed last month including world language teachers, English language learner teachers, teacher leaders, the director of English Language Learners and administrators. This group reviewed the legislation then studied current high school students’ self-identified languages as well as their student achievement data and their participation in world language courses like Spanish and French. An interest form will be shared with all MHS students, communication will go to MHS parents, and students will be able to opt in to the work that will follow in second semester to earn the Seal of Biliteracy. The district will ensure the students are proficient in English through the use of the Iowa Assessments and/or other assessments. Also, the district will ensure that the students are given preparation for and access to a world language exam called the STAMP exam for most of the 40+ languages the students speak. For languages not covered in the STAMP, a portfolio assessment will be created to demonstrate biliteracy in languages like Karen, Chin, Zomi, etc.
The district believes that the majority of the students from the class of 2019 have the potential to earn the Seal of Biliteracy based on demonstrated proficiency in English through state exams as well as proficiency in another language based on enrollment in the district’s dual language program, Heritage Speakers Spanish classes, or traditional world language classes in French or Spanish. The school counselors at Miller and MHS will continue to promote studying a world language in high school due to the great short-term and long-term impacts for our youth, but also because the newly available and highly valuable Seal of Biliteracy from the State of Iowa is worth celebrating!
Dr. Lisa Stevenson is Director of Instruction with the Marshalltown Community School District