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Linking State Seals of Biliteracy with Teacher Education Programs

Cecelia Monto, Ed. D. - Vice President, Academic Affairs at Warner Pacific University

Vice President, NACCTEP

Chemeketa Community College in Oregon has instituted a promising new project that links the state Seal of Biliteracy with Teacher Education Programs. This linkage seeks to increase the number of bilingual preservice teachers and promote future diversity in the teaching workforce.

State Seals of Biliteracy are a growing national trend. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia now offer a state Seal of Biliteracy at the high school level, which recognizes and certifies student proficiency in English and one or more world languages. Although the Seal of Biliteracy credential has existed in some form since 2011, state Seals of Biliteracy are just emerging as a recognized credential for articulation in higher education and as a quantifiable skill from employers. The purpose of a state Seal of Biliteracy is to recognize second language knowledge as an advantage in future education and careers. A Seal of Biliteracy also requires proficiency of English that is equivalent with high school senior English language arts requirements. In this way, the Seal is a tangible piece of evidence that confirms an individual’s ability to perform competently in a second language. In the field of education, bilingual skill is a clearly desired attribute for teacher candidates.

School districts within the Chemeketa Community College service district have long voiced the desire to biliterate faculty and staff to serve students and the greater community. The Chemeketa region has a large Hispanic population, so this project focuses on biliterate students who speak both Spanish and English. However, Seals of Biliteracy are offered in numerous languages, and colleges could tailor their programs to meet the specific linguistic needs of their region.

Because the skill level of native Spanish speakers varies, the Chemeketa Community College program created a continuum of 3 classes that are specifically entitled “Spanish for Heritage Speakers”. Students can take one, two, or three courses depending on their ability level. Coursework is tailored to students with native language skills and align with the state testing requirements, and familiarize students with a more formalized vocabulary and grammar structure. Most universities accept the coursework to fulfill language requirements. Further work needs to be done for greater recognition with the state Teachers Standards and Practices Commission.

The Seal of Biliteracy also validates students’ heritage and supports positive identity development and confidence. Advocacy and preservation of students’ linguistic and cultural heritage through biliteracy programs presents a promising way that institutions can offer an asset-based approach to supporting cultural and linguistic diversity. This identity strength will be an important asset for future teachers when they enter their classrooms.

Although state Seals of Biliteracy are currently offered almost exclusively at the high school level, Chemeketa recommends systemic changes that foster expansion of state biliteracy programs into higher education. Because community colleges serve a higher number of linguistically and culturally diverse students, they are the likely venue for this work. Additional linkage between state Seals of Biliteracy and teacher education programs would also be a tremendous asset to teacher candidates and schools districts. The Chemeketa project was funded by the Meyer Memorial Trust, and the project also generated a handbook for schools interested in replicating the program.

It is the author’s hope that this evidence and these resources will support implementation of new biliteracy programs in higher education, and particularly at the community college level. Recognizing bilingualism as an asset.

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