Can you read, write, and speak naturally and fluidly in two languages?
¿Puedes leer, escribir y hablar en dos idiomas de manera natural y fluida?
Pouvez-vous lire, écrire et parler naturellement et facilement en deux langues?
More than one-third of the Colorado Academy Class of 2020 can confidently—and now officially—answer “Sí, Oui, and Yes” to that question. They are the 36 Seniors who are eligible to graduate with the new Colorado Seal of Biliteracy Diploma Endorsement, honoring students who are proficient in speaking, reading, writing, and listening in both English and a second language. Francis Akomeah is one of those Seniors.
“It gives me a sense of accomplishment,” he says. “Even if it weren’t on my diploma, just knowing that I qualified for the recognition would, in and of itself, given me satisfaction.”
The diploma seal was approved in 2017 by the Colorado State Legislature. That CA has already earned the right to award it to students who meet the requirements is a testament to the persistent and determined efforts of Upper School Spanish Preceptor Lisa Todd.
“In our global world, it is so important to develop empathy and to be interculturally competent,” Todd says. “The best way to do that is to learn another language. The Seal of Biliteracy celebrates that achievement.”
‘A test that had nothing to do with grades’
Todd first learned about the concept of a Biliteracy Seal at a conference of foreign language teachers in 2017. When Colorado approved the Seal in Spring 2018, she started her long journey to bring it to CA.
“I sat down and read the Colorado bill over and over again,” she says, laughing. “Laws are not written for most people to understand!”
Working after school and during the summer, Todd followed up with the Colorado State Department of Education, navigating its website and contacting key personnel to confirm that an independent school was eligible to award the honor. She presented the Seal of Biliteracy idea to her department, Upper School Principal Dr. Jon Vogels, and Head of School Dr. Mike Davis who, she says, said “Yes!” before she even finished speaking.
She secured funding from CA so that students would not be assessed the cost of the test—$20. Finally, she worked with Dr. Vogels to find a two-hour window during finals week when students could take the World Language Proficiency Test with an intimidating double acronym—ACTFL AAPPL: The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages (AAPPL).
“In Spring 2019, we offered it to Juniors during a free block in final exams,” Todd says. “I was so impressed that they showed up to take a test that had nothing to do with their grades.”
To be eligible for the Seal, students have the alternative option of scoring 3 or higher on their AP language exam. To demonstrate proficiency in English, students must achieve a minimum score in either the SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section or the ACT English Section.
‘Really, really proud’
The Class of 2020 students have demonstrated eligibility for the Seal in two languages—evenly divided between French and Spanish. “As teachers, we learn from the results,” Todd says. “We can use what we learn to tweak our curriculum and strengthen our programs.”
Akomeah agrees that, after taking Spanish for six years, the test is informative. “It was a good measuring stick,” he says. “I can see what areas I excel in and which areas I need to work harder at.”
For students who speak a heritage language, Todd says, the Seal sends a strong message. “As a school, we embrace multiculturalism,” she says. “Being bilingual is a positive thing.” For some heritage speakers, the Seal means they can show they are trilingual. The Class of 2020 has one heritage Spanish-speaking student who is eligible for the French Seal of Biliteracy. Future CA students may also earn the Seal in Mandarin.
Denver Public Schools awards the Seal of Biliteracy to high school students, but also gives pathway awards in Third, Fifth, and Eighth Grades to encourage students to continue on a bilingual path. CA Admission Officer Karen Chavez sees students coming to CA who are working hard to demonstrate excellence in two languages. “Speaking a language other than English is something to be proud of,” she says. “It is an asset when you are looking for future employment, because more and more employers are seeking people who can communicate in more than one language.”
In early June, Lisa Todd will see the end result of her three-year effort, as the first CA graduates walk across the stage to accept diplomas with the Seal of Biliteracy. The moment will be a reward for both faculty and students. “We are really, really proud,” Todd says with a big smile.