Breaking Down the Seal of Biliteracy


Casey Stevenson

You’ve probably heard of the Biliteracy program at some point, whether you heard language teachers promote the program, heard of alum who graduated with the Seal of Biliteracy, or have friends who are trying to pursue the Seal of Biliteracy. But most students don’t have a clear idea of what the Biliteracy Program even is, or why they should pursue it. So what *is* the Seal of Biliteracy, and why is it beneficial to pursue it?

The Seal of Biliteracy is an award established to recognize students who are proficient in both English and one or more other languages, such as Spanish, French or Latin. The second language you pursue does not even have to be one that you learned in school. If you took an online class to learn French, or Spanish is your native language, you too can earn the Seal of Biliteracy! 

There are two types of the Seal of Biliteracy available to students at Tewksbury Memorial High School: The Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy and The Language Opportunity Coalition Biliteracy Pathway Awards. 

The Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy is awarded by the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education to graduating high school seniors. The students the Department awards these awards to demonstrate proficiency by earning a score of 240 or more on the English Language MCAS and earning a score at the Intermediate-High level of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines of 2012, published by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. There is also a second level of the state seal; The State Seal of Distinction, awarded to students who achieve an advanced score of 260 or more on the English Language Arts MCAS and scoring at the Advanced-Low Level of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines of 2012 on an assessment approved by DESE or demonstrating an Advanced-Low level of proficiency through a portfolio-based alternative. 

The second type of seal is the Language Opportunity Coalition (LOC) Biliteracy Pathway Awards. The LOC recognizes students of different grade levels for long term study of languages. In order to receive this award, students must attain a score at the intermediate-mid level of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines of 2012. 

Those who have taken the steps necessary to obtain the Seal of Biliteracy have felt accomplished for doing so, and were willing to provide the Fall 2019 Journalism Class with input as to what their experiences were like. 

Emma White, of the graduating class of 2019, said that achieving the Seal of Biliteracy gave her, “a sense of accomplishment, might as well (get the SOB) to prove how well you know the language.” She also expressed how the knowledge she gained from the Seal of Biliteracy process helped her in college due to the fact that, “I definitely would like to study abroad, so even though it doesn’t directly help with my major but with engineering, it’s very global, so it just helps with the level of communication you have.  And I’m actually considering minoring in a language. I haven’t decided which one yet. Also, not specific to Spanish, but just because I love learning languages.” 

Brandon Smith, of the graduating class of 2018, elaborated more on the process necessary to obtain the Seal of Biliteracy and the challenges that came with it. He explained, “Yes we did have to pass a test and it was a very intense process. We put a lot of time and effort into making sure we were prepared for the test. It fit into the Ap Spanish curriculum nicely so the process went very smooth… it really did show me how to push myself as a student. But once I got the hang of it I found it easy.” Smith also expressed an unseen benefit of the Seal of Biliteracy for seniors applying to college: “ It definitely helped with the college process. In a sense it was like I was a step ahead of some of the other students who were applying to the same schools as me. Also it has opened up my mind a lot more on a cultural level”.

Elizabeth Ezekiel, of the class of 2019, expressed that the “exam was difficult.” However, she also said that being awarded the Seal of Biliteracy, “‘helps with (a) resume’ and is ‘Good for public service.’” Ezekiel now goes to Bridgewater State University, where “only three (students from Tewksbury) got in.” 

Karina Crowley, of the 2017 graduating class, was given the chance to use the skills she learned from the Seal of Biliteracy when she went to Buenos Aires, Argentina last year to study abroad. She elaborated, “Last year when I got to Argentina it was just culture shock, it was kind of just you had to speak without thinking and learn and build yourself off your mistakes is how you learn quicker?” Crowley is also currently majoring in Spanish at Pepperdine University, and explained how her experience at Tewksbury Memorial High School helped her choose her major: “It helped me choose one of my majors which is Spanish and I knew I wanted to continue to learn the language and California is a really good place to do that. And it also led me to study abroad last year in Buenos Aires, Argentina.” When asked if she would redo her experience, she said, “No, I really like Spanish, it’s like the second most spoken language in the country now and it’s really critical to have that background to get to the job that I want to have? It’s just been really helpful for learning not only the language but the culture as well.” 

Crowley also explained how pursuing the Seal of Biliteracy helps her in her everyday life as she prepares for a life in the workforce: “I have a hostess job off-campus and a bunch of the workers speak Spanish so I practice with them a lot and it kind of changes their perception of me because I was like ‘yeah I can speak Spanish.’ and they were kind of like ‘oh really?’ and they’re speaking with me and it’s just really nice to have that native speaker experience … and living with the family that really didn’t know much if at all English made me really learn the language pretty quickly and pick up on things so that just really pushed me.” When asked if she would recommend striving to achieve the Seal of Biliteracy to younger students, Karina said, “definitely.” 

Her advice to those looking to go through the Seal of Biliteracy process is to, “practice, keep up with it, inside and outside of class, you just have to keep up with everything and let your education be super important to you. I do recommend it although it isn’t for every type of student.” 

With testimonies of success from TMHS Alum such as Crowley, Smith, Ezekiel, and White, it is with no doubt that the Seal of Biliteracy program has been a benefit to Tewksbury Memorial High School and its students, and is something students interested in furthering their knowledge of languages, or looking for something to help their college applications, should look into pursuing. 


Special thank you to the following students of Mr. Bourgoin’s journalism class for conducting the interviews: Chris Antonelli, Jack Balboni, Kaleb Crisci, Andrew Della Piana, Julia Devlin, Taily Eat, Kevin Fraize, Samantha Galante, Brianna Iandoli, Jake Kaiser, Nick MacNeil, Shawn Manson, Jason Martineau, Brett Nkabasele, Sabrina Pendola, Sarah Polimeno, Matt Rosemond, Pat Rosemond, Colin Walsh