Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Seal of Biliteracy: Variations in Policy and Outcomes

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Seal of Biliteracy: Variations in Policy and Outcomes

Article excerpt

The Seal of Biliteracy is "an award made by a state department of education or local district to recognize a student who has attained proficiency in English and one or more other world languages by high school graduation" (ACTFL, 2015a, p. 2). As of March 2017, 25 states and the District of Columbia had adopted the Seal of Biliteracy. In these states, students who demonstrate proficiency in both English and a second language (L2) are eligible to earn a seal that is affixed to their high school diploma or transcript. Typically, proficiency must be shown across the four domains (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), except in languages in which a domain is not applicable, such as American Sign Language, Latin and classical Greek, or Native American languages in which an agreed-upon written code does not exist.

The Seal of Biliteracy is designed to represent an attainment of bilingualism and biliteracy for future employers and universities (ACTFL, 2015a). Gandara (2014) surveyed 289 businesses across California, where the Seal of Biliteracy originated, and found that 66% preferred bilingual employees over monolingual employees (p. 1). On a larger scale, survey data from 2,101 businesses across the United States that were analyzed by Damari and colleagues (2017, p. 27) revealed that 41% of respondents gave preference to multilingual candidates during recruitment. While no research to date has examined how universities recognize the Seal of Biliteracy, two states (Illinois and Minnesota) have legislation in place that requires public institutions of higher education to award college credit to students who receive the seal. Although it is still in its infancy, the Seal of Biliteracy has the potential to serve as an easily recognizable signal that a high school graduate can comprehend, speak, read, and write in both English and an additional language.

The Seal of Biliteracy also has the potential to make the general public more aware of the benefits of L2 learning and thus promote educational policies that emphasize multilingualism over monolingualism (Cummins, 2000; Heineke, 2016). For example, a growing body of evidence suggests that multilingualism has benefits across the lifespan that extend beyond the ability to communicate in multiple languages (Kroll & Dussias, 2017). Such benefits include improved executive functioning (Bialystok, 2007), increased awareness of language and greater precision in language use (McLeay, 2003), delayed onset of dementia (Bialystok, Craik, & Freedman, 2007), greater intercultural awareness and open-mindedness (Byram, 1997), and increased access to postsecondary education (Kroll & Dussias, 2017).

Despite the promise of this nascent policy to positively influence public attitudes and beliefs and to promote, recognize, and reward students' attainment of functional levels of communicative proficiency in English and another language, practitioners and researchers have yet to grapple with the various ways in which the Seal of Biliteracy has been defined and implemented. While all states in which the initiative has been adopted state that the seal promotes biliteracy, states vary in the required level of English and L2 proficiency and the types of evidence that are required to demonstrate proficiency. Drawing on state and district documentation and interview data, this study analyzed the variation in Seal of Biliteracy requirements across states, the types of schools that offer the seal, and the number of students who earn the award. This information, along with data regarding the challenges in implementation experienced by participating states, may be helpful in informing those who are in the process of adopting the Seal of Biliteracy as well as those who are working to put the policy into practice.


The Seal of Biliteracy movement began in 2008 as a grassroots effort by educators and language advocates in California. Formally adopted in 2011, the legislation represented an ideological and pedagogical shift in language education in that state. …

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