Illinois implements Seal of Biliteracy


Illinois is one of the first states in the country to implement the Seal of Biliteracy, an award given to students upon mastery of one or more languages in addition to English.  With the implementation of the bill, the Illinois Board of Education hopes to promote studies of foreign language by recognizing it on high school diplomas and transcripts.

With 11 states already having adopted this seal, a quarter of states across the country will have implemented the Seal of Biliteracy towards the end of the year, said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, Executive Director of Californians Together, the organization that started the bill.  On Sep. 2, Illinois was the third state to approve the bill, behind California and New York.

To be eligible for the award, students must display a high level proficiency in a language supplementary to English. However, the steps to acquiring the seal are different for every state.  Students may have to take the AP exam, score at least 600 on the SAT language test or get a letter of recommendation from their world language teacher.

“Whether it’s local exams, interviews or designing a portfolio, the foundation is the ability to speak, read or write,” Spiegel-Coleman said.

All languages are accepted for the Biliteracy Seal, including American Sign Language.  Students do not have to be taking a class in the particular language but may have to take tests to authenticate their proficiency.  Students must also demonstrate proficiency in the English language.

“Biliteracy is a skill that is rapidly becoming both necessary and required in the workforce, and having a seal to recognize this accomplishment can be beneficial,” Justin Fisk, Director of World Languages, said.

The implementation of the seal also shows academic progress for America in comparison to other countries who have enforced similar bills.

In Europe, it is mandatory for students to learn at least one foreign language in school, so when German teacher Paulina Glowacka moved to the U.S., she was surprised to find that it  was only an elective course in the American education system.  Glowacka is a strong advocator of the seal and believes that biliteracy is a necessary skill in today’s world.

“If you know more than one language, it shows that you are not only an educated person, but you care about other nations and other people,” Glowacka said.  “The seal looks nice on the diploma, and it might secure a better job too.”

The bill is currently under a 45 day public review, but after this period, Stevenson will be able to make a decision for future plans regarding the integration of the biliteracy seal.  The Illinois State Board of Education predicts that districts will be able to award students starting this school year.

“In a world of increased connection, it’s important to have a good understanding of other cultures through languages,” Fisk said.