Urgent Action Needed: State Seal of Biliteracy for Class of 2022

We, the undersigned, are educators implementing and supporting the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy in our school districts. We request urgent action to change the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy criteria for English language proficiency so that graduating seniors in the class of 2022 have the opportunity to earn the award. The criteria is based on the 10th grade ELA MCAS exam, which was cancelled in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, depriving students in the Class of 2022 the opportunity to earn the award.

The State Seal of Biliteracy is a popular and growing award program in Massachusetts that recognizes graduating seniors who attain a high functional and academic level of proficiency in English and in another language (a World Language). In 2020, 1,790 students from 97 schools were awarded the State Seal of Biliteracy, including 69 English learners receiving recognition for their heritage language. 

The opportunity to earn the State Seal of Biliteracy is especially important now since institutions of higher education in Massachusetts have begun to grant 6-12 college credits for prior learning to students who received the award in high school. If students in the class of 2022 are prevented from earning the State Seal of Biliteracy, they will not have the option to earn college credit.

Background: 

  • The criteria for demonstrating English language proficiency for the State Seal of Biliteracy is based on the 10th grade ELA MCAS exam (603 CMR 31.00 — M.G.L. c. 69, §§ 1Q). The MCAS score required for graduation is also the minimum score for the State Seal of Biliteracy. Students must also complete assessments in a language other than English (World Language). Testing is usually completed by March of their senior year. Pre-pandemic, the English language proficiency criteria was aligned with graduation requirements, so students who met the competency determination for graduation also satisfied the English proficiency criteria for the award.
  • 10th Grade ELA MCAS test was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, affecting all students graduating in the class of 2022. 
  • The legislature empowered the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to modify the MCAS requirement for graduation (competency determination) for the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022. Under this modification, students who could not take MCAS due COVID-19 can still meet the requirements for graduation but could not earn the State Seal of Biliteracy.
  • In June 2021, the legislature empowered DESE to modify the 10th Grade ELA MCAS requirement for the State Seal of Biliteracy for the classes of 2020 and 2021, to be applied retroactively, but NOT for Class of 2022. (Acts of 2021, Charter 29, Sec 58)

Urgent Action Needed

Students in class of 2022 can graduate without taking MCAS, but these graduating seniors will NOT be able earn the State Seal of Biliteracy because they cannot fulfill the English proficiency criteria without an MCAS score. 

We ask that the modification approved in the English language proficiency criteria for the classes of 2020 and 2021 be extended to class of 2022 and for any possible future classes affected by a change in the 10th Grade ELA MCAS requirement for the competency determination.

We request urgent action on this issue to allow enough time for World Language testing to be completed in January through March 2022:

  • Teachers need enough time to schedule and administer the World Language assessments before graduation.
  • Students must know that they meet the English proficiency criteria before signing up for the World Language assessments.

Find out more about the the State Seal of Biliteracy

Seal of Biliteracy Google Group Meetings SY 2021-22

The Seal of Biliteracy Google Group is a forum for sharing information and resources related to implementation of State Seal of Biliteracy and LOC Biliteracy Pathway award programs in Massachusetts schools. 

The meetings this year will again focus on equitable implementation of both the LOC Pathway Awards and the State SoBL Awards.

Join the Google Group to receive ZOOM links for the meetings.

  • LOC SoBL Google Group VIRTUAL Meetings SY 2021-2022 
    • Monday, October 18, 2021; 7 – 8 pm
    • Monday, February 7, 2022; 7 – 8 pm
    • Monday, May 2, 2022; 7 – 8pm

Equity for the 2021 Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy

Date: March 5, 2021
To: Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

We are writing about an urgent issue for current high school seniors who wish to earn the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy (SSBL) but did not achieve the required score on the 10th Grade ELA MCAS. As English language, dual language and world language educators implementing the awards in school districts throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we urge the Department to allow students who achieve the Competency Determination (CD) under the temporary regulations approved in January 2021 to also satisfy the English Proficiency criteria for the State Seal of Biliteracy.

Online assessment of World Language proficiency is ongoing for students in the class of 2022 to meet the World Language criteria for the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy. However, for students who did not earn a qualifying 10th Grade ELA MCAS score in 2019, their only current option to satisfy the SSBL English proficiency criteria is to take an in-person test — either the ELA MCAS retest or (for English Learners) ACCESS for ELs. This policy unfairly penalizes students who do not feel safe coming to school buildings for in-person testing.

This problem potentially affects a large number of students. Based on reported 2019 ELA MCAS results, 8% of students (about 5,600) statewide did not reach the minimum ELA MCAS score of 472 to meet the CD or qualify for the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy. Of those, English learners and students from multilingual backgrounds are disproportionately affected: About 34% of  English Learners or Former English Learners and 19% of Hispanic students did not achieve the required score. It is especially unfair for English Learners, whose language skills may have improved significantly since they took the ELA MCAS two years ago. 

The Board of Education has already recognized the problem with requiring an in-person MCAS retest during the pandemic when they approved the temporary regulation in January 2021 to “address disruptions caused by the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus.” The regulation established “a process through which students in the class of 2021 who have not yet earned the CD in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics may earn the CD through successful completion of a relevant course.” 

Before the pandemic, any student earning the CD through an Educational Proficiency Plan had the opportunity to also satisfy the English proficiency criteria for the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy. The same policy should hold under the temporary CD regulation for students who cannot come to school buildings for in-person testing. 

603 CMR 31.07 State Seal of Biliteracy states “The Commissioner shall determine the minimum score or level, which shall be comparable to the minimum scaled score on the grade 10 English Language Arts MCAS required to satisfy the requirements of the Competency Determination under 603 CMR 30.03(2)(a) and 603 CMR 30.03(3)(a).” Clearly, if the temporary regulation allows students an alternate method to “satisfy the requirements of the Competency Determination,” then this option should also be sufficient to meet the English proficiency criteria for the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy. 

This is an urgent matter for teachers and students as the end of the year approaches. English and World Language teachers have been working with students throughout high school (and often longer!) to try for the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy. Students have been engaging in World language testing this year with the expectation that they will also have the opportunity to fulfill the English proficiency requirements. These students should not be denied this opportunity if they cannot complete in-person testing, especially after such a difficult year when they should be supported for their persistence in pursuing the award. In addition to the pride and accomplishment of having their language skills recognized, the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy has real value because three Massachusetts institutions of higher learning — Salem State University, North Shore Community College and Middlesex Community College —  now grant college credit to students who have earned the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy. We should do everything possible to build on the growing success of the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy program over the past three years, not to undermine it.

Massachusetts Language Opportunity Coalition
Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL)
Multistate Association for Bilingual Education, Northeast (MABE)

Signed by more than 50 supporters (see below)

If you would like to sign on to support the letter, fill out this form.

New National Guidelines for Implementing the Seal of Biliteracy

After several years of implementing the Seal of Biliteracy at the state and local levels, many lessons have been learned, many questions have arisen, and many ideas have been piloted and evaluated.

To share what has been learned from these experiences, seven organizations present these updated 2020 Guidelines for Implementing the Seal of Biliteracy.

The goals for presenting these guidelines are to:

  1. Strengthen existing strategies for implementing the Seal of Biliteracy
  2. Encourage expansion of practices at the local and state levels
  3. Connect all language learning programs across institutional lines (including primary, secondary, and postsecondary institutions) to support all learners to achieve the Seal of Biliteracy, regardless of learners’ native or heritage languages

View/download the full guidelines here: https://sealofbiliteracy.org/state-guidelines/

2019 Next-Gen MCAS Criteria

The Department of Elementary and Secondary made this clarification about 2019 MCAS scores for the Seal of Bilitearcy:

The Department has determined that a score of 472 on the Next-Gen MCAS is comparable to the Legacy MCAS score of 240. This is the standard a student must meet to earn a competency determination and the State Seal of Biliteracy. In order to earn a State Seal of Biliteracy with Distinction, a student has to achieve the equivalent of a 260 on the Legacy MCAS, which the Department has determined to be a 501 on the Next-Gen MCAS. Students can also earn a competency determination if they complete an Educational Proficiency Plan and achieve the equivalent of a 220 on the Legacy MCAS, which the Department has determined to be 455 on the Next-Gen MCAS.

From Andy McDonie, Office of Language Acquisition
If you have additional questions, please write to MAStateSealofBiliteracy@doe.mass.edu