SLUH introduces test for students to achieve seal of biliteracy

Art: Charlie Bieg

SLUH has always taken steps to try new things, especially when it comes to languages. This year, SLUH is taking the initiative further, with the introduction of the Seal of Biliteracy to the school. The Missouri Seal of Biliteracy, introduced in 2017, is an award given to high school seniors to recognize those who achieve complete proficiency in English and another language. Now, in 2022, it will be offered for the first time to SLUH seniors.

“Students have to be able to demonstrate proficiency in two separate languages,” said Language Departments chair Kate Toussaint. “One of those languages has to be English. The student’s proficiency in the language can be demonstrated by things such as the student's English ACT score.” 

To test proficiency in a second language, students must take one of various proficiency tests. There are various different kinds of tests to prove proficiency on an academic scale. Latin students may take the ACTFL Latin Interpretive Reading Assessment (ALIRA), while the test for modern languages like Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, and more is the ACTFL Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages (AAPPL) exam.

The Languages Department decided to introduce the Seal of Biliteracy after attending a conference, where they got the idea; this year marks the first time that SLUH students can earn it.

“We heard about the Seal of Biliteracy, and we wanted to give this award to our seniors,” said Toussaint. “You can get the Seal of Biliteracy and you can get the distinguished Seal of Biliteracy, so there's two different levels.” 

On a practical level, one benefit to earning the Seal of Biliteracy is that it improves your resume as well as demonstrating a payoff to the hard work that SLUH students have done throughout their high school careers.

“We feel really strongly and really confident in our curriculum and our language classes,” explained Toussaint. “More importantly though, we want our students to be celebrated for the great work that they can do and have done. Hopefully SLUH students will take the payoff and continue language studies through their lives, such as in their jobs. You can say, ‘I’m a distinguished Seal of Biliteracy scholar, here’s the paper that proves it.’”

SLUH students who speak a language that is not offered at the school still have an opportunity to earn the Seal of Biliteracy.

“Sometimes, SLUH students may speak a certain language at home, not present in our offered languages. In those cases, you may not have legitimate proof of speaking the language. The Seal of Biliteracy offers a way to solve a potential issue like that,” said Toussaint. 

As a result, students who have only in-class experience or out-of-school experience with a certain language, have a standardized way of determining their skill level. 

“It’s like a proficiency test,” described Toussaint. “It basically determines how far you have gone in your proficiency path. For example, most SLUH students started at a lower proficiency, or maybe with nothing at all. It’s a nice way to test your knowledge over the past four years.”

Outside of the official nature of the scholarship, Toussaint emphasizes that learning a language goes beyond a piece of paper. 

“I hope that students can feel proud of their work. I think sometimes when you take a language or you're studying something in your day, you kind of forget that this is a lifetime skill. You're learning that you can communicate with other people. You can study classic texts outside of the class. It's going to inhabit every kind of moment of your day like it should,” said Toussaint. “I hope that SLUH students will stay encouraged to continue their journeys with another language. It’s not that hard to take one language course a semester in college and it will benefit them in ways they never thought possible.”

Over the past week, many seniors have opted to take the test. For the seniors, the test is a good way for them to see what they have learned and to receive the designation as biliterate. 

“When I asked Sra. Alverado,  she said the test should be pretty easy given what we've studied in class. She said that as long as you understand Spanish and you're speaking Spanish well, you'll do just fine,” said senior Zach Renner. “It's very low stakes. So really, it's just a way to practice and you can't go wrong with good practice.”

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