Around the State

Preparing for the Implementation of Ohio’s New Seal of Biliteracy Program

Ryan Wertz, Kathy Shelton, and Paula Sondej, World Language Consultants, Ohio Department of Education

As the school year gets underway, the excitement building around Ohio’s newest language-based program is palpable! Many are beginning to ask some great questions about our new Seal of Biliteracy. Here are some initial answers to the burning questions we are being asked that will help your school or district prepare for implementing the program and ensure that your future graduates can be in the running for an award that will carry some significant weight with college admissions officers, military recruiters and perspective employers.

1. What is the Ohio Seal of Biliteracy?
The Ohio Seal of Biliteracy is an award conferred on graduating high school seniors who can demonstrate a high level of proficiency in English and at least one world language, which includes modern languages, classical languages, American Sign Language, and native American languages.

2. What is the purpose of the Seal of Biliteracy?
High school graduates who can function in English and least one other world language are equipped with knowledge and skills that will help them participate successfully in college, careers, the military and a diverse global society. The purpose is to:
• Encourage the study of languages;
• Certify the attainment of biliteracy;
• Give employers insights on the skills of graduates;
• Give universities an additional mechanism to identify strong candidates for admission;
• Prepare students with 21st century skills;
• Recognize the value of foreign and native language instruction; and
• Strengthen inter-group relationships and affirm the value of diversity.

3. When should we introduce our students to the Seal of Biliteracy program?
Begin informing students about the program well before they begin your school or district’s sequence of world language learning. For world language learners to have a chance at attaining the Intermediate High level of Proficiency on the ACTFL scale required to earn an Ohio Seal of Biliteracy, students will need to have access to a well-articulated sequence of proficiency-based language learning that culminates in a high-level course such as an Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (I.B.) or College Credit Plus (CCP) course. They will need to set their language learning goals early, and at the same time clearly understand what is involved in achieving them in terms of time and intensity of learning. For Level I and II difficulty languages like Spanish, French, Italian, German and ASL, research shows that it takes about the equivalent of a school year’s worth of learning to move from one level of proficiency to the next at the Novice and lower Intermediate levels of proficiency. It typically takes even longer for students to make these same leaps in proficiency in Level III and IV difficulty languages.

4. What is the cost of earning a Seal of Biliteracy? Who pays for the world language assessments?
Ohio law prohibits schools and districts from charging students a fee to earn a Seal of Biliteracy. State funding is not available to support world language proficiency testing. Schools and districts are encouraged to use local funding sources to support students who are unable to afford the cost of an assessment. Additionally, some vendors will offer a reduced price if a minimum number of assessments are purchased. Schools and districts may want to explore the idea of forming regional consortia to facilitate the testing of students seeking the Seal of Biliteracy. Ultimately, students are responsible for any assessment costs not covered by their school or district.

6. Who is responsible for determining if this program becomes an option in our school?
The school or district leadership team, in consultation with its English language and world language teachers, should make the decision about participation in the Ohio Seal of Biliteracy Program. If a district decides to participate in the program, the Seal of Biliteracy should be offered in all its high schools to ensure equity across the district.

7. What world language requirement must be met for a student to be eligible for an Ohio Seal of Biliteracy?
a. Pass an Advanced Placement (AP) foreign language and culture examination with a score of 4 or higher; or
b. Pass an International Baccalaureate (I.B.) foreign language examination with a score of 5 or higher; or
c. Attain a score of Intermediate High or higher in comprehension, speaking, reading and writing the foreign language based on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Proficiency Guidelines found at http://www.actfl.org/, using assessments approved by the Ohio Department of Education; or
d. Qualify for proficiency-based credits through Ohio’s credit flexibility program and attain a score of Intermediate High or higher in comprehension, speaking, reading and writing based on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ATCFL) Proficiency Guidelines using assessments approved by the Ohio Department of Education; or
e. Attain a score equivalent to Intermediate High or higher on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ATCFL) Proficiency Guidelines in interpersonal signing, presentational signing and demonstrating understanding of American Sign Language (ASL) on an American Sign Language assessment approved by the Ohio Department of Education; or
f. Attain a score equivalent to Intermediate High or higher on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ATCFL) Proficiency Guidelines in interpretive reading and presentational writing on a classical language assessment approved by the Ohio Department of Education.

8. What English language requirement needs to be met for a student to be eligible for a Seal of Biliteracy?
a. Earn a proficient level or higher on Ohio’s required state tests for high school English Language Arts I and II; or
b. Earn a remediation free score on the English and reading sections of the ACT or SAT; or
c. Earn a proficient level or higher on an Ohio Department of Education approved alternative assessment (TerraNova or Iowa Test); or
d. Earn a score of proficient or higher on the Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment (OELPA).

9. When will the testing window be for students who seek an Ohio Seal of Biliteracy?
For students to benefit from the attainment of a Seal of Biliteracy at the time they apply for postsecondary study, the testing window will open 15 months prior to the date of graduation. Typically, this would be in March or April of a student’s junior year. This window also permits a student to attempt to pass a Department-approved proficiency assessment more than once if needed to earn a Seal of Biliteracy.

10. Can a student take the world language assessment more than once?
Yes, within the 15-month testing window it is allowable for a student to take an approved world language assessment more than once if necessary to demonstrate a high level of proficiency. Please note that some exams may only be offered one time per year and others may be offered more than once a year. School officials and testing coordinators should determine a local schedule for students based on the language assessments desired by their students and local stakeholders.

11. Why can’t a student’s foreign language proficiency be assessed for Seal of Biliteracy eligibility more than 15 months prior to graduation?
Unfortunately, language proficiency is not static and deteriorates over time, especially if a student is not actively using or learning the language. To maintain the integrity of Ohio’s Seal of Biliteracy, participating schools and districts must ensure that students can demonstrate the required level of foreign language proficiency at the time of graduation for university admissions officers, military recruiters and prospective employers.

12. How do I know if a student “passed” a Department-approved world language assessment once my school receives the score report?
School and district officials in charge of awarding the Ohio Seal of Biliteracy should consult with the Ohio Department of Education’s list of approved assessments, which will give the minimum score(s) required on each test to demonstrate the required Intermediate High level of language proficiency. Results from assessments not listed on the approved list or not at the minimal level of required proficiency cannot be used to award an Ohio Seal of Biliteracy.

13. What should a school do if there is no assessment listed for the world language in which a student is proficient?
The student’s Seal of Biliteracy contact at the school should reach out to a world language specialist at the Ohio Department of Education as soon as possible. The Department will work with testing vendors, professional language organizations, university language departments, and/or embassy education offices to either help identify a comparable assessment that meets the Intermediate High proficiency requirement or an alternative method of proficiency-testing.

14. How is the Seal of Biliteracy presented to students?
State law requires the Ohio Seal of Biliteracy to be conferred officially only at the time of graduation. However, once seniors have qualified for the award, they may wish to indicate on college applications or to future employers, for example, that they have officially qualified to receive the award. Additionally, state law requires that the following notation of a student’s attainment of an Ohio Seal of Biliteracy appear on his or her official academic transcript at the time of graduation: “ is awarded the Ohio Seal of Biliteracy for demonstrating high levels of proficiency in English and .” Schools and districts can determine locally their own system for honoring their students for this accomplishment. This may take place at a senior awards program, at graduation, at a whole school assembly, or by mailing some form of written acknowledgement to students after graduation. Schools and districts may wish to create and give out an additional acknowledgement to students such as a certificate, a medal, a plaque, a graduation cord, etc. State funds are not available to support these activities.

15. May the Seal of Biliteracy be awarded to students who have already graduated or be awarded retroactively?
Students must indicate their intention to earn an Ohio Seal of Biliteracy prior to graduation. They cannot initiate the process retroactively after they have graduated. Score reports for certain assessments such as the AP and I.B. exams may not be available until after the student has graduated. If this is the case, attainment of the Seal of Biliteracy cannot be awarded or recorded on students’ transcripts until official scores on approved assessments have been received and verified by the school or district.

16. How does our school report that a student has earned a Seal of Biliteracy?
Schools and districts will submit verification of a student’s attainment of an Ohio Seal of Biliteracy through the Education Management Information System (EMIS). Further details will be provided soon.

17. Where can I find more information?
a. Contact your world language department chair, a district administrator or a high school counselor to find out if your school or district is participating – or planning to participate – in the program.
b. Visit the Ohio Department of Education Seal of Biliteracy website (Coming soon!).

In closing, the benefits for students earning an Ohio Seal of Biliteracy are significant. The implication for schools and districts wishing to have a significant number of their graduates eligible for the Ohio Seal of Biliteracy should be obvious: only those that have fully embraced proficiency-based methodologies and used backward-planning to purposefully craft lengthy and well-articulated sequences of learning for their English and world language learners will be fully prepared to help their students meet the program’s language proficiency goals. Here at the Ohio Department of Education, we hope you will take the time to learn more about this exciting new program as additional details become available and advocate for your school or district’s participation in the program.

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