Ryan Wertz, Kathy Shelton and Paula Sondej
World Language Consultants, Ohio Department of Education
On November 30th, the Ohio Legislature passed Ohio Senate Bill 3, which – among other things – created a provision for an Ohio Seal of Biliteracy. At the time this article was being written, the governor had just signed the bill into law on December 15th. Now that it has been signed, the law will go into full effect in 90 days. At that point, the State Board of Education will assume responsibility for creating the education rule that enacts the Seal of Biliteracy legislation. In turn, the State Board of Education will turn to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to work out the details: the requirements for qualifying for a seal of Biliteracy, the timeline for its implementation and the logistics of conferring the Seal on deserving learners. This process represents the culmination of years of advocacy work initiated by the Ohio Foreign Language Association with strong partnership by the members of Ohio TESOL and spearheaded most recently by OFLA Advocacy Chair Martha Pero Halemba. Passage of this legislation is proof that, when our profession comes together to collaborate and advocate for something it wants, anything is possible.
So, what is a Seal of Biliteracy? And why will it be good for language learners in Ohio?
The national Seal of Biliteracy website found at http://sealofbiliteracy.org and sponsored by Californians Together defines a Seal of Biliteracy as “an award given by a school, district or county education office in recognition of students who have studied and attained proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation.” The recognition of attaining Biliteracy becomes part of a learner’s high school transcript and diploma. In implementing a Seal of Biliteracy, Ohio will join 23 states and the District of Columbia in recognizing learners who attain high levels of proficiency in English and at least one other language. The creation of state and local Seals of Biliteracy is strongly supported by a consortium of national organizations that should be familiar to everyone: the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL), the National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE), and the TESOL International Association.
In terms of why the bestowment of this award would be good for Ohio language learners, the thinking is that high school-aged students who attain levels of proficiency in English and at least one foreign language that are high enough for use in a post-secondary or workplace setting deserve to be recognized and recruited based on their demonstrated abilities. As noted in the guidance recommendations posted on SealofBiliteracy.org, a Seal serves as “a statement of accomplishment that helps to signal evidence of a student’s readiness for career and college, and for engagement as a global citizen.” As the accolade becomes better known, the likelihood of post-secondary institutions using the attainment of the Seal during considerations for admission, scholarship and course placement is apt to occur as has happened in other states where a Seal of Biliteracy is already in place. At the same time, Ohio is home to a multitude of international employers, many of whom constantly seek employees who demonstrate high levels of linguistic and cultural competency. In time, they will come to understand that Ohio’s Seal of Biliteracy will serve as a strong indicator of readiness for positions requiring language and intercultural abilities beyond those possessed by the typical pool of candidates.
The specifics of Ohio’s Seal of Biliteracy remain to be determined, and the recognition probably will not be ready for implementation for some time. In all likelihood, a stakeholder group will be formed to give input on the requirements for earning this recognition. We would invite you now to consider serving in such a capacity if this is, indeed, the way the State Board of Education ultimately decides to have ODE move forward with developing our state’s program. Stay tuned as the specifics begin to take shape and a more specific timeline is developed. We will continue to provide updates at critical junctures, and we will certainly provide professional development for all interested parties once the criteria have been developed and the Seal is ready to be awarded in Ohio.