World language learners seek seal of biliteracy

Finley Monahan studies the past perfect subjunctive tense to prepare for the biliteracy test. — Courtesy MVRHS

On Friday, March 5, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) 37 students in upper-level language classes took the Language Proficiency Stamp Avant Test in pursuit of the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy.

The Stamp Avant Test consists of reading, writing, listening, and speaking portions. It was the second time MVRHS has offered the exam, and students tested in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German. The seal is printed on the diplomas of students who pass the test.

Language department chair and biliteracy test administrator Justine DeOliveira, who also teaches Spanish at MVRHS, said, “[The test] is really looking at what it means to function in a language.”

The purpose of the seal, according to the World Language Department, is to “value language diversity and the skills needed to participate in a global society, prompt long term study of languages learned in school, and produce a biliterate, multicultural workforce.”

In order to qualify for the Seal of Biliteracy, students must score in the intermediate-high level in all sections of the Stamp test and demonstrate their English proficiency by passing the MCAS test.

Students believe the seal will be helpful in the future. Senior AP Spanish student Rachel Salop said, “I took the test because I have been speaking Spanish for a long time and earning the seal is a great accomplishment and can be useful in college.” The seal may be used to test out of some language course requirements in college.

While many students started preparing for the specific sections on this test just a few weeks before the test date, they had all been building the foundation of their languages in their past few years in high school.

Senior AP Spanish student Hope Bettencourt said, “I think I really started preparing for [the test] freshman year with all the Spanish teachers that I’ve had. They’ve all prepared me well.”

Scores on the test have already been released. Once the language department confirms that the students have passed MCAS, five students will receive the seal of biliteracy in Spanish, six students in Portuguese, and one student in French. Five additional seniors qualified for the Seal of Biliteracy in Portuguese based on previous testing.

Students who did not qualify for the seal this time will be eligible to retake the test next year. “[The test is] all about what students are able to do and then also with using this specific type of testing it provides individual feedback,” said Ms. DeOliveira.

Now that the scores are released, language teachers are noting a discrepancy between students’ listening and reading scores and their speaking and writing scores. Students have typically been performing better on the listening and reading sections, and less well on the other sections.

“The reading and listening went surprisingly well for me. They were a bit easier than what I was used to with the AP activities we normally do in class,” said Senior Bella Thorpe. “The writing and speaking were more difficult.”

Teachers are trying to learn more about the differing scores between sections. “We are trying to dig a little deeper into the data and see why that is. Is it because of what we’re doing in our program? Is it because of the test itself?” said Ms. DeOliveira. “Speaking is often the skill that takes the longest to develop and reach the highest level.”

Regardless of whether they passed, Ms. DeOliveira was pleased with all the students who sat for the test. She said, “We want [students] to celebrate every step of the way, because it’s a very long journey to learn a language and become proficient in it.”