“Estudiantes de secundaria de Escuelas Publicas de Denver podra graduarse con un ‘Sello de Bialfabetizacion’ sobre sus diplomas comenzando el proximo año.”
If you’re one of the approximately 34,600 Spanish-speaking students in Denver Public Schools, you already know that sentence means: “Denver Public Schools high schoolers will be able to graduate with a ‘Seal of Biliteracy’ on their diplomas beginning next year.”
What’s changing is that for the first time the district will formally acknowledge those students’ skills in both English and Spanish. Students can also earn the new diploma seal for any other language of their choosing.
The Seal of Biliteracy is a recognition given to graduating seniors for demonstrating proficiency in English and at least one other language. Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, DPS will be the third district in Colorado to offer this merit, following Adams 14 and Eagle County schools.
Darlene LeDoux, director of academic achievement for English learners in DPS, said that the roughly 38 percent of English language learners at DPS will benefit from the seal, but it is intended for all students. Eventually, more non-ELL students will get the seal than ELL students, LeDoux added.
“Certainly English language learners will benefit from this,” LeDoux said. “But this was not specifically for English learners, this was for all kids.”
Colorado doesn’t have statewide graduation standards so it is left to the districts to determine how these seals should be issued. The long-term plan is to have criteria for the seal that is approved by the state so there can be a state seal of biliteracy, said Jorge Garcia, who helped create the district criteria for earning the seal.
Proficiency in English and the other language will be determined by existing assessments, such as IB exams or ACCESS.
While some languages, such as Spanish and French, are easier to test with existing assessments, others are more difficult, Garcia said. But accommodations will be made.
For example, indigenous languages such as Lakota are offered at certain DPS schools but there isn’t an AP, IB or other standardized test offered in that language.
“If there’s not something that is commercially available, something they can just get and administer to the student, then they will develop a portfolio in consultation with the community that speaks that language in order to (figure out) how they can demonstrate this proficiency,” said Garcia, board member for the Colorado Association For Bilingual Education.
And in the event a school can’t find a nearby community that speaks that language, they will contact a consulate, embassy or school system in that country to find an assessment that will give students the opportunity to demonstrate that proficiency, he said.
In addition to making the program accommodating to students, DPS is also offering incentives early on to get students interested in speaking more than one language. Students can receive “pathway awards” in third, fifth and eighth grade if they demonstrate skills in two or more languages and are on the path to earning a seal at the end of high school.
Offering these awards and the seal gives students something to strive for, Garcia said, because it will formally acknowledge their bilingual skills.
“Students go through programs where they basically study in two languages, however, they graduate like everyone else and there’s not really a recognition of that,” said Garcia, who is also the director of the BUENO policy center at the University of Colorado Boulder. “This would help existing (dual language) programs give students the recognition they deserve because many of them have been in a program for many years working on these proficiencies…it gives students a reason to become more proficient than just being able to order at a restaurant in French.”
This recognition is important for employment and educational opportunities, the director said. Employers and colleges will see the seal and know that student’s bilingual abilities are formally recognized. It gives students a competitive edge.
According to a presentation LeDoux gave at a board meeting earlier this month, there are nearly 82,000 unfilled jobs nationwide that require bilingual speakers.
“(The seal) makes students highly marketable and prepared for any type of opportunity, college or career,” she said. “It gives them more choices and more options. I think that’s really exciting.”