FAQ – For schools & districts

What is the Seal of Biliteracy?

The Seal of Biliteracy is a national movement that began in California in 2011 as a way to recognize and reward students that had attained a functional level of biliteracy as a result of their schooling.  Since that time, and as of the spring of 2019, 36 states including the District of Columbia have enacted Seal of Biliteracy legislation.  You can follow the national progress at www.sealofbiliteracy.org.  Governor Baker signed the MA Seal legislation into law on November 22, 2017.

What does the MA Seal of Biliteracy legislation say?

The MA Seal of Biliteracy passed as part of a comprehensive legislation to provide more options to heritage learners of other languages and celebrate biliteracy.  A complete description of the state awards and procedures and can be found in 603 CMR 31.07(2) of the state regulations. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education established these criteria to identify and recognize students who have attained a high level of proficiency in English and not less than one foreign language. To qualify for the State Seal of Biliteracy, students must meet all graduation requirements and the English language and foreign language criteria. See criteria in the DESE Guidance for Implementing the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy.

Why was it necessary to pass state Seal of Biliteracy legislation?

The Seal of Biliteracy movement is a national effort to value and reward biliteracy and that the legislation represents a formal commitment by the state to the importance of language learning in this global environment. This is especially important in states like ours whose Department of Education have not been active in world language leadership and who leave most programming decisions of untested subjects up to district choice. More importantly, legislation and state oversight creates a directive to language programs that the historic grammar-based language instruction is not effective and does not produce proficiency.  

What is the Language Opportunity Coalition (LOC)?

The Language Opportunity Coalition (LOC) is a collaboration between world language (MaFLA), dual language (MABENE) and English learner (MATSOL) professional organizations to increase high quality language learning opportunities for students in all types of language programs, languages and levels and to value biliteracy as a critical skill.  Join the LOC Google Group with hundreds of other teachers who are implementing the Seal in their districts across the state.

Why is the Language Opportunity Coalition (LOC) still involved in supporting the Seal in MA?

The Language Opportunity Coalition (LOC) created and oversaw the Seal Pilot over three years prior the passage of the legislation, involving teachers from all types and levels of language programs.  They created the criteria and parameters for a multi-tiered award structure. The LOC had a broad vision of what the Seal of Biliteracy could represent Pre-K through graduate school with awards along the way to promote ongoing biliteracy and lifelong learning.  Join the LOC Google Group to interact with and ask questions of hundreds of other teachers who are implementing the Seal in their districts across the state.

How do I get my district involved in the Seal of Biliteracy?

Read the overview and criteria for the MA state Seal in the DESE Guidance for Implementing the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy.  The DESE Guidance document describes the criteria for the MA State Seal of Biliteracy (Intermediate High) and the MA State Seal of Biliteracy with Distinction (Advanced Low).  The LOC elaborates a Pre-K through High School program for celebrating biliteracy with the Seal. The LOC Guidance Document describes the criteria for the other Seal award (Intermediate Mid) and the other awards available for other levels and student populations.  The LOC Guidance Document also elaborates the various steps for district implementations. Join the LOC Seal Google Group to participate in the statewide discussion.  New members to the Seal Workgroup are joining regularly to get support for district implementation of the Seal of Biliteracy.  Through the Google Group, you’ll get access to the Google Drive materials, updates, and meeting announcements. We meet quarterly via GoToMeeting to discuss questions and implementation procedures.  

What if a district or a student does not want to participate in the Seal of Biliteracy?

The Seal of Biliteracy is voluntary for districts and voluntary for students within those districts that elect to participate.

What are the criteria for the various levels of the Seal of Biliteracy?

For the MA DESE Seal of Biliteracy and Seal of Biliteracy with Distinction, see the criteria in the DESE Guidance for Implementing the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy.  For the LOC Seal of Biliteracy, see the criteria in the LOC Guidance Document.  Also see the steps for district implementation that were elaborated over the course of the pilot.  Also, join the LOC Seal Google Group to participate in the statewide discussion.  

What tests are approved for documenting the partner language to award the Seal of Biliteracy?

For the approved lists of tests that can be used to document the MA DESE Seal of Biliteracy and Seal of Biliteracy with Distinction, see the list, updated yearly, in the DESE Guidance for Implementing the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy.  The LOC Seal of Biliteracy approves the same list of tests to document the level of proficiency of the partner language, see the criteria in the LOC Guidance Document.  Also see the steps for district implementation that were elaborated over the course of the pilot.

How does my district choose between the tests to document the partner language to award the Seal of Biliteracy?

The two most selected tests in the Pilot to document the partner language to award the Seal of Biliteracy were proficiency tests called the AAPPL and the STAMP.  The LOC has prepared this PowerPoint overviewing the administration and differences between the two tests.  The AP World Language tests are also on the list of approved tests but it should be understood that the results of these AP tests are not returned until July, which is too late to celebrate the award with graduating seniors.

How does my district pay for the tests to document the partner language to award the Seal of Biliteracy?

Ultimately, the district needs to find a way to budget the payment of the tests.  Some districts begin implementation of the Seal of Biliteracy through grant funding to pay for tests.  Some districts ask the students to pay for the tests. It must be understood that districts must pay for the tests for students who receive free or reduced lunch.

What tests are approved for documenting English proficiency to award the Seal of Biliteracy?

For the MA DESE Seal of Biliteracy and Seal of Biliteracy with Distinction, see the criteria in the DESE Guidance for Implementing the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy.  For the LOC Seal of Biliteracy, see the criteria in the LOC Guidance Document.  Also see the steps for district implementation that were elaborated over the course of the pilot.  

How does the Seal benefit the different student populations?

The Seal of Biliteracy rewards English language learners, dual language program students and world language program students for biliteracy they demonstrate in speaking, writing, reading and listening.  The Massachusetts Language Opportunity Coalition developed tiers of the Seal award to demonstrate that the language learning process can take time but that the more extensive the timeframe, the more proficiency can be developed.  English language learners who maintain their native language are honored for the linguistic resource that they bring to their schooling.  Dual language programs reward their students through this tiered process that starts in the elementary school with Pathway Awards and encourages them to continue language programming through high school and beyond.  World language programs that set proficiency targets can demonstrate to students that the longer sequences of language study lead to higher proficiency.  

How does receiving a Seal impact students’ college and career readiness?

As the Seal is being implemented across the nation, employers can understand and use reference to the Seal award on a job candidate’s application to place the candidate where his or her language skills will be most necessary.  The alignment of the Seal with the Proficiency Guidelines provides for a nationally recognized standard of ability to perform in the language.  The university level was included in the sequence to push students to continue their language studies and become lifelong learners.  It is also expected that a system of college credit awarded to the high school Seal award will be developed.  Biliteracy is a skill that enhances most career opportunities.

What is the potential impact of the Seal of Biliteracy?

There is no other school-based test that we can think of that so perfectly describes what a student can do as a result of programming and that has such a clear connection with a necessary career skill.  In this age of seeking evidence of student learning, we have a perfect measure to describe what it is that our students can do as a result of their language learning programming.  Even more exciting, it is a scale that is understood at the national level and can be used to document college and career readiness.  We envision a near future where college credit is allocated through proficiency attained in K-12 and where jobs require a specific level of proficiency for the positions they post.

What is proficiency?

The proficiency movement began in the 1970s when the government needed to describe what communicative functions were necessary for diplomats and the armed forces that were working abroad with the understanding that there would be a need for those personnel to interact with the native population. Certainly, the linguistic needs of a clerk are different than those of soldier and those of a hostage negotiator. The levels extend from Novice, to Intermediate, to Advanced, to Superior to Distinguished and each have sub-levels of low, mid and high. Each sub-level outlines the range of tasks or communicative functions that the person can complete, in which communicative contexts and how well the person can understand and be understood. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) adapted the scale for use in language development in K-12 and beyond.  Though it has taken some time to become the national movement that it now is, best practices in foreign language teaching now focus on what the learner can do with the language.  The purpose of language learning is to develop proficiency to be able to interact with the language in real-world communicative contexts for authentic purposes.  

The Seal award has pushed districts focus on proficiency development and teachers create a learning environment that focuses on the communicative needs of the target proficiency level of the awards.  This encourages programs and teachers to move away from the historic grammatical focus of language learning that did not develop proficiency or lead to much enjoyment in language learning.  Language teachers are united in frustration over consistently hearing some version of the statement; “I took X number of years of X language in high school and I can’t say a word now.”  Historically, language learning has not focused on what students can communicate as a result of programming.  

How is proficiency measured?

Along with the proficiency scale, the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) was created as a formal assessment process through interview to assign the specific level of proficiency that the person can sustain in the language. In 2015, ACTFL in cooperation with the National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE), the National Association of Teachers of Other Languages (TESOL), and the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL) designated Intermediate Mid as the minimum standard of functional proficiency for the Seal of Biliteracy.  See the National Guidelines for Implementing the Seal of Biliteracy at https://www.actfl.org/news/press-releases/seal-biliteracy-guidelines-released.

Over the last ten years, as language programming shifts to proficiency development and have wanted to assess how well their students are attaining the departmental targets, two companies have created tests over the computer for use in schools to simulate the OPI interview process but in the four skills or three modes of the language.  The tests take about an hour or so and cost about $20 per student.  

Where can I find information about pedagogy for language learning?

Resources for State Seal Implementation:

MA DESE Seal of Biliteracy Guidance:  http://www.doe.mass.edu/ell/guidance/default.html

LOC Guidance Document:  

Timeline and Guiding Questions for the LOC Biliteracy Awards

Action Plan Template horizontal view doc pdf vertical view doc pdf

ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines:  https://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/actfl-proficiency-guidelines-2012

NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements: https://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/ncssfl-actfl-can-do-statements

Guidelines for Implementing the Seal of Biliteracy: https://www.actfl.org/news/press-releases/seal-biliteracy-guidelines-released

Oral Proficiency Levels in the Workplace (poster created by ACTFL): https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/TLE_pdf/OralProficiencyWorkplacePoster.pdf

Language Opportunity Coalition Seal Toolkit and PowerPoint and Language Opportunity Coalition Flyer about Proficiency in the Workplace:  https://languageopportunity.org/issues/seal-of-biliteracy-pilot-project/