Interest in Iowa Seal of Biliteracy Grows Rapidly

“You are all cultural assets…to not our only district and community, but to our state, our nation and our world,” Lisa Harrington, Des Moines’ East High School associate principal told seniors from across the district who gathered April 25 to be recognized by educators, family and friends for earning the Iowa Seal of Biliteracy.

In order to achieve the seal, students across Iowa had to demonstrate proficiency in at least two languages – including English – an accomplishment many employers value and that may satisfy a college requirement depending on the institution. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill establishing the seal in 2018, and participation continues to grow.

In the 2020-21 school year, 916 Iowa seniors earned the seal, a 59.3 percent increase from the 575 who did so in 2018-19, the first year of implementation, according to the 2021 Annual Condition of Education report. It’s up to school districts and accredited nonpublic schools to decide whether to offer the seal program. By 2021-22, about a third of the state’s school districts with high schools had a seal program in place, as well as five nonpublic high schools.

“The Iowa World Language Association (IWLA) considers the Seal of Biliteracy a priority to help students to be confident in their ability to communicate with others and to make Iowa globally competitive in terms of workforce and cultural relevance,” said Sam Finneseth, immediate past president of IWLA, which represents language teachers across the state.

Spanish, French, German, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and American Sign Language are among the languages in which students have earned the seal. They have to show they are proficient in reading, writing, speaking and listening on either an approved test or with a portfolio of work. The Department’s Seal of Biliteracy guidance provides more information about the requirements for students and what school districts and accredited nonpublic schools need to do to start a seal program.

In Des Moines, at least 140 seniors will be awarded the seal upon graduation this spring, said Finneseth, who also is world language curriculum and Seal of Biliteracy coordinator for Des Moines Public Schools.

Haris Mehuljic, 18, a Lincoln High School student, is one of them. Haris earned the seal in Spanish, but also is proficient in Bosnian and English.

“It’s awesome to know another language, and it comes with a lot of benefits,” Haris said at the reception following the seal ceremony at East High, which included cake and college recruiters. He is considering majoring in computer science at Iowa State University after graduation, and is confident that knowing Spanish will help him get a job someday.

Zitlalic Flores, 18, a Roosevelt High School senior who also is an artist, said she earned the seal in Spanish “mostly…because I was just told it will help me get more opportunities in the future.”

With a 2017 New American Economy report documenting the fast-rising demand for bilingual workers, she likely is right about that. New data about how many 2022 Iowa seniors statewide earned the seal will be available later this year, providing another measure of how the state is preparing future-ready students for their next steps after graduation.


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