“Seal of Biliteracy” an example for all Orange County schools

“America is a first class country where we can have the best of everything,” stated Lindsey Bui, a Bolsa Grande High School student, who wondered, “Why can’t we have the best education?” Ms. Bui was among several students and teachers who spoke in favor of the “Seal of Biliteracy” at a Garden Grove Unified School Board meeting in February. The seal, which will appear on the high school diploma, will indicate a student’s academic proficiency in English and a world language.   After sharing how she had relatives from France and Vietnam who were fluent in multiple languages, Lindsey recommended that GGUSD provide its students the opportunity to learn more than one language from elementary school, suggesting that this will make students more successful in life and careers. After hearing testimony overwhelmingly in support, the board voted unanimously in favor of adopting the Seal of Biliteracy for the 2012/2013 school year and became the second school district in Orange County to do so, following the lead of the Anaheim Union High School District.  

Upon passage of the resolution, Board of Education President George West, Ed.D.  stated, “Achieving high levels of academic competency in both English and at least one other language is a vital asset for prospective employers competing in international trades and global markets, and for public services throughout our communities.”

Trustee member, Bao Nguyen, who is fluent in English, Vietnamese and Spanish, and whose education platform included biliteracy, added, “We are proud of our past accomplishments but are committed to continuously moving this district forward. I am thankful to my fellow board members for their unanimous support.  High school seniors graduating in this global era need to have skills to be able to communicate across national borders and languages.  Being proficient in English and one or more other world languages and cultures is a strong indicator that they are not only college and career ready but prepared to contribute to the prosperity of our communities.”

Liberato Figueroa, a parent in GGUSD was cautiously optimistic about the decision, “I applaud the board’s action in helping to prepare our children for college and the work place. While I appreciate the hard work of teachers, I have been concerned that the district has prioritized test scores over access to a whole curriculum. World languages are nonexistent at several junior high schools since they are not tested. Even science and history courses have been reduced to a semester at our junior highs.  Hopefully, this will send a message to district and site administrators to help steer our schools into the 21st century. As a parent, I am more concerned about whether my child can think, speak and write critically about world issues and on a broad array of subjects. For too long this district has focused on API (Academic Performance Index) scores and so it’s great to see this board take some concrete action in the right direction.”

Californians Together, a state consortium of biliteracy and English Learner advocacy groups, has worked for two years with schools districts across the state to develop local Seal of Biliteracy programs.  To date 64 school districts and county offices of education have formally adopted a Seal of Biliteracy program. On October 8, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 815 (Brownley) creating the State Seal of Biliteracy making California the first state in the nation to honor high school seniors who are proficient in English and one or more languages.  Districts have the choice of deciding whether to adopt the seal of biliteracy program. 

Increasingly, parents like Mr. Figueroa are beginning to figure out what the test scores really mean. Since they are weighted toward two subjects, Reading and Math, the scores often reflect what’s taught; and so urban districts have not only narrowed the curriculum but also focused on pedagogy designed to teach students how to take a multiple choice test. Teaching world languages effectively requires daily instruction that includes speaking, communicating with each other, and applying content to real life situations. Let’s hope students like Ms. Bui have authentic opportunities to “have the best education.”