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Seal of Biliteracy: Assessing the Less Common Languages

This article originally appeared in the MaFLA Spring 2020 Newsletter.

Written by Michael Orlando, Ed.D and Katie Cardamone

Now that Massachusetts is in its second year of officially awarding the Seal of Biliteracy, it is wonderful to see more districts jumping on board. Thanks to the work of many organizations and school districts coming together to make this bill happen, language programs are not only benefiting from this prestigious recognition, but are also prepared to set students up for success to receive it. But there is one struggle that districts continue to face. With standardized tests being the measure to receive the Seal of Biliteracy and the Seal of Biliteracy with Distinction, what about the languages that are not available in the ‘MA Approved World Language Assessment Instruments’ that can be found on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) website? 

A student whose home language is Armenian and shows high proficiency levels in both English and Aremenian should have an equal pathway to the Seal of Biliteracy. Many districts have gone to great lengths to find assessors, generate different portfolio pieces, and find ways to evaluate students who are proficient in languages not offered by standardized tests such as the AAPPL or the STAMP. No school district or student should be prevented from accessing the Seal because of a partner language that is not readily available in mainstream assessments. As we strive to elevate the value of biliteracy across our state and emphasize the importance of dual language acquisition, a need that must be met is the opportunity to showcase all languages in a given community. While specific portfolio assessments have yet to make it on the DESE approved list, there are companies such as Idioma Education and Consulting who are aware of this need and are developing comprehensive, online, easy to access Language Portfolio Assessments. By following the Portfolio-Based Alternative Evidence Method for World Language Assessments, Idioma has developed a practical solution for districts looking to assess the less common languages.

Idioma Education and Consulting is a local company founded by a world language educator who cares about seeing all students and educators advance on their pathway to proficiency. Idioma offers online high school, undergraduate, graduate and professional development courses in world languages, ESL, and with a focus on World Language Methodology & Pedagogy. In addition, they are now offering Language Portfolio Assessments as a result of the need in the state. Their OPI Language Proficiency trained team of instructors have been working diligently on this platform to create an option that can be completed by students during the school day in a similar number of hours that the AAPPL or AP tests require. Students are able to submit portfolio pieces in the four language domains via the Idioma Learning Management System. Reading and listening selections are provided in the target language, as well as writing and speaking prompts. A student simply creates an account and then the districts chooses when the testing window will be open. The student is able to access all elements of the portfolio assessment through the account and upload responses and recordings. From there, portfolio assessors log in to evaluate the student submissions according to the ACTFL proficiency guidelines.  All portfolio assessors/raters will be trained to discern the difference between Intermediate High and Advanced Low to support districts in awarding the Seal of Biliteracy and the Seal of Biliteracy with Distinction. 

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