Secondary Language Learning


The What, Why, When and How of the Process

OFLA Secondary Language Learning Committee:  Maureen Gerber, Perrysburg High School, Chair,  Alexis Blum, Minster High School, and Kerry Parker, Edison High School 

The Secondary Language Learning Committee would like to help encourage more teachers to have students aspire to earn Ohio’s Seal of Biliteracy.  What follows is an article explaining the whats, hows and whys of the new Ohio Seal of Biliteracy.

First, what is the Seal?

The Seal of Biliteracy is a distinction that students can earn which tells universities, graduate schools and future employers that students are proficient in English and in a second language.  To earn the Seal, a student must score at the Intermediate High level of proficiency in Reading, Writing, Speaking interpersonally, and Listening (interpreting). Ohio has established several assessments that may be used, most notably the STAMP test and the AAPPL test, but also the AP and IB tests.  

Why is earning the Seal a good thing for students?

The Seal is a measure that shows students and others what they are able to do with the language.  Instead of just claiming to be “proficient” in a second language on a résumé or college application, students can prove their proficiency.  This should make them more attractive to employers and admissions representatives. The Seal also helps prepare students for the future with 21st century skills such as communication, critical thinking, and creativity. 

Furthermore, earning the Seal validates the years of effort the student has put in to learning the language.  This is the first step in garnering confidence in language ability and interest in pursuing more language study in the future. 

What tests are available and at what cost?

There are currently two approved tests, aside from the AP and IB assessments, the AAPPL and the STAMP tests.  The STAMP tests are with Avant Assessment. The cost is at a special rate for OFLA and covers the battery of four tests.  Individual skill tests can be retaken at a cost of $5.00 per skill test. The AAPPL test from Language Testing International is created by ACTFL and has the same price as the STAMP test.  Call for a price quote; the cost covers a series of tests designed to be presentational, interactive and interpretive. Individual components of this test can also be retaken for varying costs.  

The STAMP test measures level of competency in speaking and listening question by question, and questions stop after the student answers a section incorrectly.  The writing and speaking sections are composed of three prompts each; the proficiency level is determined by averaging the scores for the three prompts. It has no grammar component but measures grammar through writing and speaking proficiency.  There are two AAPPL tests – one to test Novice-Intermediate and one for Intermediate-Advanced. These reading and speaking sections are composed of three sections each and the student completes all questions for a score. The speaking prompts are interactive, with students responding in conversation to video/audio.  It is important to order the Intermediate / Advanced AAPPL test when testing for the Seal, because you may have students test at the Advanced level and that will not be measured with the Novice / Intermediate test.

Are there special rules regarding the Seal?

Students must meet the English language arts proficiency requirement and also must meet one of the following criteria, based on ACTFL’s proficiency guidelines and assessments approved by ODE: 

    1. Pass the AP Foreign Language test with a score of 4 or higher
    2. Pass an IB test with a score of 5 or higher on the Higher Level Exam OR a 6 or higher on the Standard Level Exam
    3. Attain a score of Intermediate High or higher in comprehension, speaking, reading and writing the foreign language 
    4. Qualify for proficiency-based credits through Ohio’s credit-flexibility program and attained a score of Intermediate High or higher 
    5. Attained a score of Intermediate High or higher on the ACTFL guidelines for interpersonal signing, presentational signing, and demonstrating understanding of ASL
    6. Attained an equivalent score to Intermediate High or higher in interpretive reading and presentational writing on a classical language 

Students can retake areas of the test where they have not reached the target score within the 15 month window prior to graduation, but not all parts of the test are offered throughout the year. The test and testing windows will need to be coordinated with the testing coordinator and/or administration in each school district.

Personal Experiences with the Process

Maureen:  At my school, we give the AAPPL assessment.  We are in our third year of doing this, and we have been happy with the results.  Most students are able to earn the Seal, and most do it without having to retest. Of all the areas, there does not appear to be one which is more difficult than the rest.  If a student does need to retest, it may be reading, listening, writing or speaking. In general, the scoring of the test follows the ACTFL rubric, which is very handy since that is how we score students in class.   

Kerry:  I would mimic Maureen’s statements about the STAMP test.  No one area has been a hang-up for my students. Being able to access their speaking and writing tests, once graded, and then having students assess their comments and evaluation has been very helpful.

Ideas to help students be successful

Kerry:  The format of the tests has forced me to teach more to proficiency and less to the grammar component of the National French Contest.  I keep a list of writing and speaking prompts and use these as practice and assessment from French 3 on up. I have created a list of criteria so that the students know what they are expected to do to move from level to level.  We refer to a chart on the wall constantly so that they remember it. And we work to build in various criteria and master them step by step throughout the course of the year. Changing my assessment expectations to better mimic this format has had a big impact on my students’ ability to use the language.

Maureen: These assessments fit very nicely with teaching for proficiency!   The AAPPL is set up with interpersonal speaking, presentational writing and interpretive reading and listening.  Because of this assessment and our proficiency-based units, students get a lot of practice to help them prepare. We do not use a text at our school and are 1:1 with laptops.  Authentic resources provide relevance and a context for our grammar instruction and skills practice. I love the way our units are evolving and the way our assessments have changed, and all of it seems to dovetail nicely with the AAPPL test.

I am hoping to test my students using the AAPPL in earlier levels, just in speaking for example, both to give them a feel for this kind of assessment (and their abilities) earlier, and to give me data to help them move up in their language learning.

In conclusion, the Seal of Biliteracy is attainable!   It’s a great boost for our programs, and is something about which students are very proud.  It is also so nice for them to see that being able to communicate does not mean being as fluent as they are in their native language, and that there is great merit to what we are doing in our classes.  

There are online practice tests available for both tests.  You can find more information at these links:

AAPPL demo:

STAMP test practice tests:


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