NEWBURYPORT — Newburyport High School seniors and juniors now have the opportunity to demonstrate their language proficiency through participation in the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy initiative.
This is one of a few efforts Newburyport Public Schools is making to “build a more robust world language department,” Assistant Superintendent Angela Bik said.
Created by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Seal of Biliteracy is an award given to students who can show bilingual proficiency in four domains: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
The program was first adopted in the state for anyone in the 2019 graduating class. The seal is a key component of the LOOK Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in 2017 and aims to provide districts with more flexibility so they can meet the needs of English learners. The seal is completely voluntary for districts to participate.
Students who wish to qualify for the seal must score at least a 240 on the English Language Arts portion of the MCAS. In addition, they must pass the Avant STAMP 4S assessment, a four-part, web-based test that determines language proficiency. There is no fee associated with the seal.
Students are also encouraged to receive a recommendation either by their world language teacher, if English is their first language, or their English as a second language teacher, if their native language is not English. This component is not required, though.
“It bridges students who are studying world languages with students who are English as a second language students,” Bik said. “They all qualify for this.”
In Newburyport, the first round of STAMP testing will be offered to students this spring. “They will take it either in the language they are studying or in the language that is native to them. We’re really excited.”
The seal is not limited to the languages taught in Newburyport. The district offers Spanish and German courses at the middle and high school levels, but Bik said they hope to expand such offerings in the future.
Nicole Sherf, a world languages and cultures professor at Salem State University, has been working with all of the world language teachers at the middle school and the high school, Bik explained.
“We’ve been aligning our program and trying to add enough rigor to the programming that happens at the middle school, so they enter the high school at a higher level,” she said.
By redesigning the curriculum with the help of Sherf, the district hopes more students will be able to enter high school having already completed the equivalent of Spanish I or German I.
“We are also rewriting our coursework under new national guidelines,” Bik said.
So, rather than focusing on conjugating verbs and perfecting grammar, she said the district wants students to hone their communication skills. “It’s really about having a second language to communicate.”
Bik said Salem State University has agreed to accept the Seal of Biliteracy as college credit for students upon entry. Sherf is petitioning other colleges in Massachusetts to do the same.
“I think everybody’s recognizing the importance of preparing kids for the 21st century and the global world we live in,” Bik said. “Speaking more than one language is essential to that.”
For more information, go to http://www.doe.mass.edu/scholarships/biliteracy.
Staff writer Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.