Many bilingual high school graduates in Minnesota will be crossing commencement stages this spring with a distinction honoring their proficiency in another language beyond English.
Students must pass a test in order to receive a seal of biliteracy from the state’s Department of Education, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. The award also qualifies students to earn up to four semesters of college credit recognized by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
“We’re trying to use it as an imperfect tool to get some academic recognition and possibly some college credit for these students who are often viewed as being at a deficit,” said Marni Ginther, who teaches Spanish at Edison High School in Minneapolis. “They’re often defined within the system by what they don’t have, what they don’t bring. And we’re trying to create a space where they can have the opportunity to bring something.”
At least 90 different languages are spoken by students in Minneapolis’ public school district. One in three of the district’s students speaks another language.
Edison senior Salah Mohamed is among the bilingual students in the district. Mohamed received a biliteracy seal after passing the Somali test.
He said it encouraged him to continue investing in the language that he grew up speaking with his parents.
“I don’t know what I’ll be in four or five years’ time,” Mohamed said. “I may need Somali, I may not. But there’s always going to be chances where you can improve your Somali, and I’ll always do that.”
Minnesota’s education commissioner, Mary Cathryn Ricker, said there’s been a demand to offer the seal program in more languages. The state is currently developing tests for speakers of Dakota, Ojibwe, Lao and Cambodian.
“I would love to see a day where our local job applications ask if they’ve received their diploma, and do you have a seal of biliteracy in any language?” Ricker said.
She also hopes to offer the seal to bilingual prison inmates earning high school and college credits.