The beauty of biliteracy: Lane seniors recognized for language proficiency


Ruby Thompson

Nayana Shah works on an audio assignment in AP Spanish. In May, if students earn a four or five on their AP Language exam, they can earn the Seal of Biliteracy.

By Nina Figurelli

Over 150 languages are spoken in the Chicagoland area and an estimated 2.5 million residents speak a language other than English at home, according to UIC Today. There is an abundance of language diversity throughout the city and Lane’s student body is no exception. With the Seal of Biliteracy certification, students are able to gain recognition for their linguistic abilities.

The Seal of Biliteracy exam is a state assessment offered at Lane that recognizes high school seniors who are proficient or fluent in a language other than English. If students earn a score of intermediate-high or above, they are eligible for an official state Seal of Biliteracy that will be displayed on their transcript and diploma.

According to Spanish III and AP Spanish Language teacher Angela Burbano, both students who are studying a language at Lane and those who speak a second language at home can take the Seal of Biliteracy exam.

“It’s a recognition given by the state of Illinois in particular to high school seniors who have studied and can exhibit the ability to communicate in two or more languages, that usually is English, and then a language they are either studying or [a] language they are fluent in at home,” Burbano said.

At this time, the state seal exam is only being offered to seniors. However, Henry Gomez, Lane’s Seal of Biliteracy Coordinator, described the different ways students can obtain the seal throughout their high school careers.

“So currently, CPS only pays for this exam to the seniors only,” Gomez said. “However, students can demonstrate their proficiency at any point during their high school experience. So if a student wants to pay for the exam on their own, and they obtain the resources that are required, they can send that my way. Then when they’re seniors, I present that as evidence that they meet the proficiency requirements and they can earn the seal that way as well.”

Another way students can earn the seal prior to their senior year is by earning a score of four or five on an AP Language exam. In fact, AP Language teachers here at Lane are encouraging their seniors to take the Seal of Biliteracy test in preparation for the AP exam.

“[The Seal of Biliteracy Exam] also gives you another link to practice on,” Burbano said. “And so for many of us upper level teachers, we were letting our students in the AP classes know it’s coming up right now. This will help you prepare for our AP exam. Also, you just want to be able to practice through this test, so when you get to the AP exam, it’s a lot easier for you to handle.”

In addition to AP exams and the Seal of Biliteracy exam, underclassmen who participate in study abroad programs also have the opportunity to earn the seal.

Lane’s Arabic teacher Mohamed Danja encourages students of all foreign language levels to work towards taking the Seal of Biliteracy exam their senior year.

“I encourage them since level one. I really wanted to because a lot of students think it’s hard, and they can’t do it. But I always tell my students you know more than you think in the language, even in Arabic,” Danja said.

Students who earn the seal will not only be recognized on their high school diploma, but they will also be able to use it on their resumes in college and beyond. Senior Elena Hernandez-Cornelio is an automatic recipient for the Seal of Biliteracy since she earned a five on her AP Spanish exam her junior year. She has been able to use her seal to show the certification for her language fluency for jobs.

“Sometimes they ask, do you speak a second language? And I have been able to say yes, I do speak Spanish. I have my Seal of Biliteracy and I’m fluent in it. So it’s just another way to show proof [that] I do speak it fluently and here’s my seal to prove it,” Hernandez-Cornelio said.

Working towards fluency in a second or third language can prove to be beneficial and useful for students who wish to pursue a career internationally. 

“Also for work if you want to work in the Middle East or somewhere like that, it shows that you are very proficient in a language like Arabic, so business will take you more seriously as someone who is fluent in the language,” Danja said.

Henry Gomez, Lane’s Seal of Biliteracy Coordinator, teaches a Heritage II Spanish Class. The exam has been given to students for a variety of languages this week. (Ruby Thompson)

Last year, the Seal of Biliteracy exam at Lane offered 13 languages, including Arabic, French, Polish, Italian and more. CPS used the Avant testing company, which offers the assessment. While the language exam options were limited, this year, CPS is working to secure a contract with a new vendor to provide more languages on the exam.

“This year, CPS is trying to solidify another vendor that will open up the doors to 30 more languages, some of which students at Lane Tech do speak, but they have not been able to demonstrate their proficiency in the past,” Gomez said.

The Seal of Biliteracy Coordination Team as well as Lane’s language teachers have been working to promote the exam to current seniors. Seniors are strongly encouraged to take the exam because there is nothing to lose. The test is of no cost to students. While students may not be advanced enough in their respective language to earn the seal, they may be eligible for commendations if they earn a score of intermediate-low or intermediate-mid.

“So [last year] 195 Seniors took the STAMP test here at Lane, and from those 195, 180 of them received the seal in one way or another; 131 students earned the full seal and then 49 of them earned commendation towards the seal,” Gomez said.

Students also have the opportunity to earn the Seal of Triliteracy if they demonstrate proficiency in two languages other than English. And not only does this exam provide students with the opportunity to earn proficiency in a foreign language, it also may allow them to celebrate their cultural background and heritage.

“Last year, we had two students earn the Seal of Triliteracy, meaning they’re proficient in English, Italian and Spanish. And we had four students earn the Seal of Triliteracy because of their proficiency in English, Spanish and Polish,” Gomez said. “So be proud of your heritage, be proud of the language, and be recognized for it.”