Fluency in more than one language can offer opportunities throughout one’s lifetime and the Seal of Biliteracy, a graduation distinction, is one way to open doors for our students.
The Ohio Seal of Biliteracy is awarded by Bexley Schools and the Ohio Department of Education at graduation, in recognition of students who are proficient in English and at least one other language. Nearly all U.S. states and the District of Columbia recognize the Seal of Biliteracy and have similar programs.
All juniors and seniors in good standing can test in a language other than English in order to earn the distinction by graduation.
Nearly 140 Bexley students so far have indicated their intent to test for the Seal of Biliteracy this year. Students have until Feb. 21 to apply for the test, which is scheduled for April 25.
Many of these Bexley students who are testing are language students in Spanish, French, and Latin. They will take the STAMP exam in conjunction with their classes; STAMP tests for language proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Additionally, six other students, all multilingual, currently are signed up to test for proficiency in their languages. In some cases, students have skills in a language they learned as young children and, for others, they still speak languages other than English in their homes.
Two Bexley High School students are English-Language Learners (ELL), who excel in class and intend to test for language proficiency to earn the Seal of Biliteracy at graduation. Both, too, know that colleges and employers covet the ability to speak multiple languages.
Junior E. is a senior at the high school, having transferred to Bexley for his junior year after spending a few years in Columbus City Schools. Born in France, he and his family moved to Togo at a young age before coming to the United States in 2016. Junior speaks four languages: English, French, Ewe, and Twi.
He learned French at a young age and his education in Togo was in French. Ewe also was spoken in Togo. At home, he spoke Twi, which is common in Ghana where his parents are from.
While most comfortable with English and French, Junior took AP French last year, but he doesn’t claim to be fully proficient in all four languages – meaning that he is able to read, write, speak and listen well in each language.
Bexley High School Senior
To earn the Seal of Biliteracy, a student must show proficiency in all four areas.
“ELL students are often orally bilingual,” Alison Nakasako said, “but they need to improve their reading, and writing skills especially, in their first language to be able to pass the test.” Ms. Nakasako is one of Bexley's ELL teachers.
She explained that AP students have better reading and writing skills, but are typically less functional in their second language.
Junior credits ELL teacher Ms. Nakasako for her support in helping him transition well to Bexley High School. “It’s different here,” he said. “We have teachers who care – they want to see you do good. They will help you.”
Currently, Ms. Nakasako is helping Junior determine what he will focus on for the Seal of Biliteracy testing. They’re trying to assess his skills in each language and determine whether testing can be done in Ewe and Twi.
Not every language is automatically available, but according to Ms. Nakasako, the State of Ohio will find a way to test fluency in a language, even if there is not a standard test available. “They are looking to recognize all languages,” she said.
“The Seal of Biliteracy is a good thing to have,” Junior said. “Employers will look closely at you when you list it on your resume.”
Studies show that nearly all employers value employees who are multilingual and more than 60% claim foreign-language skills to be important in their hiring.
Junior intends to study real estate in college, but also is interested in the technology of building and designing websites. So far, he’s been accepted to the University of Cincinnati and is applying to other schools in Ohio, Florida, and Texas.
Bexley High School Junior
Mohamed M. is a junior at the high school. Born in Egypt, he and his family moved to the United States when he was 11. He was in 6th grade when he began learning English in Bexley Schools.
While Arabic is his first language, he said he hasn’t done a lot of reading and writing in it. Still, he intends to test for the Seal of Biliteracy, and Ms. Nakasako is helping him find ways to improve his literacy.
“A lot of colleges want bilingual students,” he said. “They like the diversity it shows.”
Mohamed said his Bexley teachers are really understanding.
“It’s a good school and a good system,” he said. “It’s harder than usual, but teachers will modify lessons to help me. And I feel safe here.”
After high school, he intends to go to a community college, likely Columbus State, and then transfer to Ohio State to earn a degree in civil engineering.
A number of other students in Bexley Schools are fluent in additional languages too, whether an ELL student in school or one who uses another language at home or with extended family members. For those families and students, as young as elementary school, it is important to consider the opportunity that awaits. Keep in mind that your students may be able to test for language proficiency and earn the Seal of Biliteracy at graduation. And perhaps their bilingual skills will open new doors of opportunity one day.