By: Suzanne Hartzell
The California State Seal of Biliteracy holds significant value for bilingual students, recognizing their ability in multiple languages and fostering cultural diversity. The seal not only highlights linguistic abilities but also promotes a more inclusive and globally competitive education system.
Recognizing Multilingual Proficiency
The California State Seal of Biliteracy was established in 2012 to acknowledge and celebrate high school graduates who have exceptional proficiency in one or more languages besides English. As California boasts a diverse population with a multitude of languages spoken, the seal serves as an instrument to honor and incentivize bilingualism and multilingualism. Bilingualism supplies economic and social advantages in an increasingly globalized world.
Current Requirements and Challenges
High school graduates can receive the gold seal on their high school diploma or transcript if they prove ability in English and another language. In 2021-22, the most recent year with data available, 57,582 students were awarded the seal, in more than 22 different languages, from American Sign Language and Arabic to Urdu and Vietnamese. Yet many students, particularly English learners, do not receive the state seal of biliteracy, even though they are bilingual, because there are not enough options to show students are proficient in English, according to some advocates and district and county officials.
To earn the State Seal, students traditionally needed to prove proficiency in English and a foreign language, meet specific GPA requirements, and successfully complete designated coursework. This requirement often posed challenges, as some students excelled in spoken languages but found the written aspects more difficult. This is where California State Assembly Bill 370 stepped in.
Expanding Options and Opening Doors
Introduced to the Assembly in response to the evolving needs of bilingual students, Assembly Bill 370, soon to be signed into law, expands the options for students to fulfill the requirements for the State Seal. Students can show proficiency in English by either completing all English courses with a 3.0 GPA or by meeting the standard on California’s standardized test in 11th grade, instead of requiring both.
In addition, the bill adds other ways to show proficiency in English: by completing at least one English language arts class at a college or university with at least a 3.0 grade point average; by achieving a score of 3 or higher on an English Advanced Placement exam or a score of 4 or higher on an English International Baccalaureate exam; or by achieving a score of 600 or higher on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the SAT.
The bill also recognizes the diverse skills that bilingual students have and proposes alternative pathways to show their language proficiency. This includes recognizing ability in heritage languages, American Sign Language, or computer programming languages. Also, the bill removes the requirement for students who are English learners in high school to meet overall ability on the English Language Proficiency Assessment for California and requires only the highest score on the oral language part of the test.
Finally, the bill adds ways for students to show ability in another language by completing high school level courses in another country in a language other than English with a GPA of 3.0 or above; or by completing a language course at a college or university with a GPA of 3.0 or above.
Assembly Bill 370 garnered significant support among California educators, who saw it as a progressive step toward accommodating the varied linguistic talents of students. This bill aligns with modern educational ideals that emphasize individualized learning pathways and promote students' strengths. Educators recognize that proficiency in diverse languages enhances cognitive skills, cultural awareness, and employability in a global job market.
Elaine Giron, UCR University Extension’s retired Coordinator of English Language Learner Programs, says, “I am thrilled that Assembly Bill 370 has passed, as it will offer students more options to show proficiency in English to earn the State Seal of Biliteracy. It is going to provide much-deserved equity to English Learners.”
Embracing Linguistic Diversity for a Brighter Future
The California State Seal of Biliteracy stands as a symbol of excellence in linguistic proficiency, encouraging students to embrace their diverse linguistic backgrounds. By accommodating a broader range of language skills, the bill reinforces the notion that every language holds value, enriching not only individual lives but also the cultural fabric of California and its global competitiveness. As educators, legislators, and advocates celebrate the bill’s passing, the future looks brighter for bilingual students and the celebration of linguistic diversity.