New Jersey has joined more than a dozen other states that endorse an official seal on high school graduates’ diplomas and other records that signifies they are proficient in a second language.
Known as the State Seal of Biliteracy and signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie last week, the mark is aimed as a way to highlight the language abilities of thousands of New Jersey’s graduates as they enter the workforce and college.
The program started in California in 2012, and now has been adopted by 13 states and is under consideration in a half-dozen more.
The state would provide participating districts and schools the seals to go on their diplomas and transcripts that would signify that the student speaks, writes, and reads the second language.
Districts will not be required to participate in the program, and how it will work in New Jersey is yet to be determined, with proposed regulations to go before the state board of education.
The law will go into effect in 2016-2017. Many questions remain to be answered, such as how and by whom students will be tested. Also to be resolved: What incentive will there be for districts to participate and who will pay?
The law only says the following:
The criteria shall require a student to demonstrate proficiency in English by meeting State high school graduation requirements in English, including through State assessments and credits, and proficiency in one or more world languages other than English. The criteria shall permit a student to demonstrate proficiency in a world language other than English through multiple methods, including nationally or internationally recognized language proficiency tests.
The program includes seals for those who know American Sign Language and Native American languages; Latin was a late addition.
While largely symbolic, the move has been backed by both education and business organizations that see it as a way to celebrate and highlight students who can transcend language barriers — in the workplace, college, or other settings.
“As a career educator I recognize the great benefit to students of mastering more than one language. This is a skill that will not only help them to expand their understanding of other world regions, but will also help to provide them additional career opportunities in the future,” said Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), one of the prime sponsors of the bill.
One survey by New Jersey business leaders found that one in five online job postings ask for candidates to know a second language. The survey cited the biggest increases in German, Chinese, and Spanish.
“Not only will a state seal of biliteracy help encourage students and parents to take foreign language studies more seriously, but it could also help signal to employers that certain job applicants are able to effectively communicate with a wider variety of consumers,” said Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, promoting passage of the law.