English-Language Learners

100,000 Students Earned the Seal of Biliteracy, But They’re in a Handful of States

By Corey Mitchell — October 15, 2019 2 min read
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Interest in the seal of biliteracy has surged across the country, with nearly every state scrambling to offer special recognition for high school graduates who demonstrate fluency in two or more languages.

But more than 80 percent of students earning the seal are concentrated in just a handful of states, a new report reveals.

The report from sealofbiliteracy.org, a site that tracks seal of biliteracy developments across the country, found that nearly 100,000 students in the class of 2018 earned the honor. Eighty-six percent of those students were from five states—California, North Carolina, Illinois, Virginia, and New Jersey. California alone accounted for nearly 56 percent of the recipients.

Arthur Chou, the managing director and founder of sealofbiliteracy.org, touts the report as the first attempt to document how many students are earning the seal. It includes data from 23 states and the District of Columbia, but nothing from Colorado, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin—four states that offer the seal, but don’t track how many of its students earn the award.

States that began offering the seal during the 2018-19 school year are also not included in the report. Here is the state-by-state look at the number of recipients for the class of 2018:

The number of students earning the seal could continue to grow. As of March of this year, 36 states plus the District of Columbia have established state seals.

When the seal of biliteracy launched in California nearly a decade ago, its supporters envisioned an honor that would recognize multilingual English-language learners and native English speakers alike. But in nearly every state that offers the seal, no one is tracking who earns them—so there’s no way to know how many English-learners are reaping potential benefits, such as earning college credits.

While gathering data for the report, Chou found that less than five states tracked both how many English-learners and former English-learners earned the award.

A Georgetown University study released earlier this year concluded that some schools, especially whiter, wealthier ones with fewer English-learners, are more likely to offer the recognition than others, a Georgetown University study found. The researchers also determined that, even when they have the opportunity, English-learners often face more hurdles to earn the honor: The criteria for earning the seal holds English-learners to higher standards in their second language (English) than native English-speakers are held to in theirs.

California, the birthplace of the seal of biliteracy, may be an exception: In the class of 2018, 63 percent of graduates who earned the seal spoke a language other than English when they began school, according to a report that Californians Together, an English-learner research and advocacy group, released this summer. Those youths, identified in the report as heritage-language students, include current English-learners, former English-learners reclassified as English proficient, and students identified as bilingual when they began school.

Related Reading

The Truth About Bilingualism: It’s Only for Some

As More States Adopt Bilingualism Seal, Equity Concerns Arise

More States and Districts Embrace Biliteracy

California Aims to Make (Even) More Students Bilingual

Image Credits: sealofbiliteracy.org

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.