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Frederick County plans to recognize language proficiency on diplomas

Yesenia Montenegro

Yesenia Montenegro

Yesenia Montenegro, Linganore High School

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Adopted by Maryland in April 2016, the Seal of Biliteracy is an award given by a school district for students who have studied and are competent in two or more languages. The recognition encourages students to continue studying higher levels of a language and makes graduates more employable, since employers are able to identify people with biliteracy skills. Students receive the seal on their diplomas at graduation.

However, this award is not only for students taking language courses. Many students in Maryland speak a different language at home that they are fluent in, so they don’t take classes at school. Instead of highlighting cultural differences, these heritage language speakers are recognized for their strengths.

I am a German mother-tongue speaker. I was born in Germany and lived there until I moved to Maryland when I was 11. I am fluent in German and, to practice, I go to the German school in Potomac on Saturdays. I am currently taking a two-part test called the DSD, which, if I pass, will allow me to go to college for free in Germany. I completed the first part of it last year, and I am taking the second part this November and December.

The DSD is one of the approved tests that someone can take to earn the Seal of Biliteracy. Once I take the test, I will become eligible for the recognition. According to DeWayne Cash, FCPS World Language Supervisor, the Seal will be part of FCPS in 2018-2019. I hope to be one of the first to receive it.

Originated in California in 2011, the Seal of Biliteracy was adopted by eight counties in Maryland this year.

The Seal has been approved by 28 states and Washington, D.C. The most recent is the state of Missouri on Oct. 12.

Bonnie Pechulis, the World Language and ESOL Specialist for the Maryland State Department of Education said, “In its first year [in Maryland], the program awarded 1,197 Seals of Biliteracy in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin, and Spanish. Most of these were in Montgomery County. A few students received Seals of Biliteracy in more than one language.”

There are a variety of ways for students to become eligible for this award, depending on the school district. The Maryland State approved tests include AP, ASLPI, Avant STAMP, DSD, IB, OPI, and many others.

The languages someone can earn the Seal of Biliteracy for in Maryland include Spanish, French, German, Latin, Chinese, Korean, Russian, American Sign Language, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Serbian/Croatian, Vietnamese, and more.

This award includes many different cultures and languages. Having this many languages is a great opportunity for students because it will allow many different students to take these exams.

Almost 17 percent of students in Maryland do not speak English at home. Some of the students also take classes in their native language on the weekend. They will be able to be recognized for their abilities instead of penalized for their differences.

Even if someone is not taking a class in one if these languages, the student could still earn the Seal. As long as they can demonstrate fluency, they can earn it. The state determines the level of proficiency needed for the Seal of Biliteracy. As long as it is an approved test language it can be a native second language, heritage language, or a language learned at school.

French teacher Dragana Blonder said, “This award is great for college. It shows that you have a skill that many others don’t. It’s a very good way to show that you are bilingual.”

“I think once it is added to the county most people at school will earn it for Spanish. The easiest way for FCPS students to earn it is by getting a 4 on the AP test,” said Blonder.

According to the CollegeBoard data, 42 percent of French students in America received a 4 or a 5 on the AP test in 2017. For Spanish it was 54.5 percent of the students. All of these students would be eligible for the Seal of Biliteracy.

Being proficient in a second language also helps when looking for employment. Of course, being bilingual is important in some obvious careers, such as education and social services. However, many people are not aware how many different kinds of jobs benefit and prefer to have bilingual employees. Some of these include law enforcement, hospitality, journalism, and health care.

Fatima Rosas, a member of the Class of 2019, whose first language is Spanish, said, “I think it would be great to win an award for something I was brought up with. I speak fluent Spanish, so to receive something that is easy for me and can help me in college would be very helpful.”

According to DeWayne Cash, more information about this award will be released to the public in February and March of this year.

The Seal may be attached to the transcript or to the diploma. FCPS has not yet decided how it will be handled.

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