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New State Award Recognizes Maine Students’ Bilingual Proficiency

Robbie Feinberg
Maine Public

Students across Maine can now be recognized for being proficient in multiple languages as part of a new initiative from the state’s Department of Education.

The agency announced Monday that beginning in May, it will offer a new award, called the Seal of Biliteracy, that will be featured on student transcripts. To earn the seal, students will need to show proficiency in English and another language.

The department says students can show that in a variety of ways, including attaining high scores on tests like Advanced Placement exams.

Education Commissioner Robert Hasson says he hopes the new certification will help incentivize students to take more world language classes — as well as allow students from other countries to demonstrate their abilities.

“I think it’s aligned with what we want a well-rounded student to be in the 21st century,” he says.

Hasson hopes that up to 10 percent of Maine students will receive the seal over the next two years.

However, that goal could prove to be a challenge in many districts, particularly rural ones, which have faced drastic shortages of foreign language teachers in past years. Hasson says the Education Department hopes to work with schools to strengthen world language programs and find resources from local communities.

Grace Leavitt, a Spanish teacher and the president of the Maine Education Association, says she hopes the new initiative will prompt more schools to invest in world languages, beginning as early as kindergarten and first grade.

“The argument I get back often is that there’s such a shortage of language teachers. But until everyone’s learning a language, we’re going to continue to have that shortage of language teachers,” she says. “So we have to start, and get going on it.”

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have already introduced the Seal of Biliteracy. Portland Public Schools added the credential last year.