State seeks input on biliteracy assessment

CASPER — The Wyoming Department of Education is collecting public input on assessment options for students seeking to earn the Wyoming Seal of Biliteracy, a seal that will recognize graduating high school students who speak multiple languages. 

In March, the Legislature passed a bill — Senate File 78 — that created the state-recognized Seal of Biliteracy. 

Beginning next academic year, students can earn the seal by taking an assessment to prove that they’re proficient in English and one or more other “world languages.” That includes American Sign Language, classical languages and indigenous languages, according to the bill. 

Those who pass the assessment will have a seal on their transcripts to recognize that proficiency. Students who are particularly skilled in their languages can earn an “advanced distinction” seal. 

The new legislation also requires school districts to report the number and types of seals issued in the prior school year, as well as the languages students learned, to the state superintendent of public instruction by mid-October. 

A handful of school districts in Wyoming already offered district seals of biliteracy. 

But Wyoming was one of five states in the U.S. that didn’t offer a statewide seal of biliteracy, according to Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, the sponsor of Senate File 78. 

“A statewide seal encourages students to pursue biliteracy, and it can be evidence of skills that are attractive to not only colleges, but to employers,” Ellis said during her testimony before lawmakers on the bill. 

She said that students who don’t have the opportunity to earn a seal are at a “competitive disadvantage” when vying for jobs or college admission. 

According to a 2019 survey by Ipsos Public Affairs for ACTFL, a membership organization of language educators and administrators, about a third of employers reported high dependency on foreign language skills. 

But about a third also reported that their foreign language needs weren’t being met. 

It’s not clear, however, how this compares to demand for multilingual speakers from employers just in Wyoming; there doesn’t appear to be a similar survey assessing this need among employees in the state. 

Department of Education Director of Standards and Assessment Laurie Hernandez said an advisory committee of language educators will get together early next month to start vetting assessments to measure language skill. The committee will then make assessment recommendations to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder. 

Community members can provide input on this process through Thursday by filling out an online survey with the education department.