Students placing added emphasis on biliteracy

LONG BEACH - Graduation celebrations this year will be enhanced in 57 school districts in California where thousands of high school graduates will don special medals that recognize them for achieving a high degree of literacy in English and one or more world languages.These California school districts, including some of the largest districts in the state, will award the Seal of Biliteracy, a statewide recognition that honors students who have attained proficiency in English and one or more world languages. Edwin Carmona-Cruz from the Azusa Unified School District began school as a native speaker of Spanish. He would like to go on to study Spanish at a university and later teach. "Being bilingual in society is vital to success especially living in Southern California," he said. "This certificate is important to me because this demonstrates my success in two languages and pride in my cultural heritage." In order to earn the Seal of Biliteracy, students must score proficient or above in the state English Language Arts exam and graduate with at least a 2.0 grade point average. They can demonstrate their linguistic mastery in a variety of ways: scoring well on standardized tests, providing a transcript of two years of world language studies, passing a district-approved exam or passing Advanced Placement exams in the world languages they studied. Students are being recognized for their biliteracy in English and Spanish, Mandarin, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Armenian, Arabic, Korean, French, Italian, German or Cantonese. Fatima Barron, an 18-year-old senior from the Santa Cruz School District, decided to take French plus she already knows Spanish. "It seemed like a really interesting language," she said. "I've always been into other cultures." Barron reflected on another reason to study languages. "Right now, it's very competitive out there, and the more skilled you are, the better," she said. "It's so important to be trilingual, biliterate. It really helps you. It gives you a better chance of getting a job." Californians Together, an education coalition of parents, professionals and civil rights organizations, is working statewide with school districts to implement the Seal of Biliteracy. "Preparing all students with 21st century language and communication skills is critical for being college and career ready," said Dr. Karen Cadiero, a university professor and president of Californians Together. "Thousands of students will be graduating this month well-prepared and ready to contribute to the prosperity of our state and their community because of their proficiency in English and at least one of the many languages spoken in California. "These students will be equipped to be leaders in the areas of international trade, the global economy and public services vital to our diverse community," she continued. "We encourage all students to become excellent communicators by gaining proficiency in English and learning another world language." Colleges and businesses also see the value in fluency, officials said. "An important component of the 21st century skills is fluency in a language in addition to English that will enable California's next generation of business leaders and workers to continue to grow our economic capacity," said Kate Klimow, vice president of the Orange County Business Council. "A Seal of Biliteracy is an excellent example of K-12 practices that support 21st century skills for economic success." In addition to the Seal of Biliteracy for high school students, Californians Together is working with school districts to adopt pathway awards designed to encourage preschool, elementary and middle school students to develop proficiency in English and add another language leading to the Seal of Biliteracy. A legislative proposal, AB 815 authored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, would create the California State Seal of Biliteracy. It has passed through the Assembly and awaits passage in the Senate and the governor's signature. The state superintendent of public institution would issue the Seal of Biliteracy to be attached to the diplomas or transcripts of graduating seniors who have fulfilled the state criteria for earning the Seal. "I appreciated the opportunity to prove myself worthy of the title 'biliterate.' I anticipate that it will help me when I apply for future jobs and/or volunteer positions," said Andres Garcia, a student at Oxford Academy in the Anaheim Union High School District. Locally, several school districts have adopted the Seal of Biliteracy, including the Whittier Union High School District and Los Angeles Unified School District.

********** Published: June 23, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 10