As the school year comes to an end and high school graduates celebrate their awards and achievements, many will receive a Seal of Biliteracy on their diploma. But is high school too late to be getting students excited about language learning and the Seal of Biliteracy?

Increasingly, the evidence says yes. Studies show that the earlier students are exposed to learning and practicing another language, the more likely they will be to stick with it.

Chicago Public Schools has long been ahead of the curve in this area. Their latest innovative program, the Pathways to the Seal of Biliteracy, engages students in 5th- 8th grades in language learning and gives them an award for biliteracy. The goal is to get them excited about their language skills and put them on the “pathway” toward getting the official Seal at graduation.

Now in its second year, the Pathways program on Wednesday recognized 2,000 students for proficiency in seven different languages. That’s double the participation since last year.

A key aspect of the Seal of Biliteracy though is passing a nationally recognized proficiency test. So how do you test language proficiency in younger students who are still developing their general language skills? That’s why CPS partnered with Avant to implement our STAMP4Se test, the only developmentally appropriate proficiency test for grades 2 – 6.

“It goes beyond the proven academic benefits of language study,” said David Bong, CEO of Avant Assessment. “The Seal of Biliteracy and the trends of engaging students in dual language programs from a young age are part of a movement to prepare students for an increasingly global economy.”

As the program continues to grow and prove its success, Luis Narvaez, the Director of Strategic Projects in CPS’s Office of Language and Cultural Education, hopes they will eventually get the funding to expand the program to test students at even younger grade levels.

It’s already having a real impact. Teachers report that students involved in the program are more excited about language and have shown increased confidence and leadership. And high schools that were previously offering two years of a language are now looking at increasing it to 4 years, or offering more variety of languages to meet the increasing demand, Narvaez said.

“It’s so important to get students more excited about the study of world language and maintaining their heritage languages in addition to English,” said Narvaez. “It’s valuable for their academics and for our whole community.”

Congratulations to all of the Chicago Public Schools students who earned a Seal of Biliteracy this year!

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