CAMPUS: Students and faculty articulate complications with earning Seal of Biliteracy

In 2012, the California Department of Education implemented the State Seal of Biliteracy. Students who achieve high proficiency in a language other than English are distinguished by having a gold medallion on their graduation certificates and an inscription of prestige on their college, job and internship applications. However, many complications have hindered SCHS students from meeting the requirements.

“It is unfortunate because we do have a lot of students who are newcomers who definitely know another language, but they have to now learn English,” English Language Support and Assessment Technician Karla Flores Lopez said. “Unfortunately, they wouldn’t qualify (for the Seal of Biliteracy) because they do know one language but not the other.”

Students hoping to earn the SSB must prove proficiency in English through maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA in English classes and meeting state standards on the ELA California Assessment of Student Performance test. To prove proficiency in a foreign language, a student can do so through testing, or coursework. For testing, students must pass an advanced placement exam with a minimum score of three, receiving at least a four on an International Baccalaureate exam, or passing with at least 600 on the SAT II foreign language exam. The coursework route entails receiving a 3.0 GPA in a four-year language course and displaying oral proficiency.

For English language learners, Flores Lopez said meeting the requirements is difficult. Working closely with ELL students and conducting yearly language ability tests, Flores Lopez recognizes the stresses of coming to a new country and facing new academic standards. English language learners must pass the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California to receive the SSB.

“It’s a little bit more complicated because they have to show proficiency in English even though they already mastered Spanish,” Flores Lopez said. “But at the same time, because they mastered Spanish, they also have to prove that they speak that language, mainly through the AP test.”

For non-English learners, meeting the requirements can prove difficult as well. Many American Sign Language learners and students taking language courses outside of the school district may face logistical constraints.

Currently, the ASL program at SCHS is a three-year program, setting students who wish to receive the SSB in a precarious situation. Either the fourth year of ASL or a test to prove their proficiency in ASL would meet SSB requirements. However, neither of those are options at SCHS, but out-of-district courses can be a way to fill the four-year requirement.

“Let’s say a junior, maybe for summer school they want to take a language class where they can meet the requirement for the Seal of Biliteracy, they can definitely do that,” Flores Lopez said. “Students should explore taking college classes, especially if they want to meet the requirement for Seal of Biliteracy because we do take it into consideration as a high school way to count those years.”

Students who take out-of-district courses must receive 40 credits from whichever institution they are enrolled in. As many programs vary, with community colleges offering 15 credits and other programs offering 10, guidelines for receiving the SSB can be unclear. Counselor Katy Weeks has noticed a lack of advertisement for the SSB, another issue that affects different students alike.

“I don’t think there’s a huge awareness right now,” Weeks said. “It’s great for the student who knows that they want to keep pushing themselves in their language with the potential to use it or major in it someday.”

While the counseling department and Spanish classes discuss the SSB, many students feel they are made aware of it too late in their high school careers. Weeks noted that it is best for students to begin learning their language of choice in middle school so the SSB is awarded in time for a student’s graduation.

“Living in California where we have a very diverse population, it is very critical that our students are able to speak more than one language,” Flores Lopez said. “Just thinking about moving on, graduating, getting into colleges and also finding a good job, I think that being bilingual is definitely a plus.”