142 Shawnee Mission Students Earn Seal of Biliteracy

142 Shawnee Mission Students Earn Seal of Biliteracy
Shawnee Mission School District

The Shawnee Mission School District has increased its biliteracy rate by nearly 30% over the last year, with 142 Shawnee Mission Students earning the prestigious Seal of Biliteracy in 2023. 

The Seal of Biliteracy is a state award and national recognition for students who pass a test demonstrating proficiency in English and a second language. Earning the award also earns students a Market Value Asset (MVA). Over the last year, the awards at Shawnee Mission North have nearly doubled while the awards at Shawnee Mission West have nearly tripled!

“At Shawnee Mission West, we have a lot of students that speak another language at home,” explained Dr. Elizabeth Ault, an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher at SM West High School. “I personally think this is a way to show honor to their heritage. I think with the push this year for real-world learning, students are seeing that they have this skill and honoring what they already have.”

Roughly 2,500 students in the district are considered English Language Learners, or ELL students. Meaning that just under 10% of SMSD students are not native English speakers. These students attend specific classes to improve their English.

“We have over 100 languages spoken in our district,” said Dr. Matthew Anderson, the Assistant Director of Curriculum Instruction for ELL “While we do not offer all of those as courses, students can still take the test in their native language to get the seal.”

To qualify for a silver or gold designations, Seal of Biliteracy students must first pass the Kansas English Language Proficiency Assessment (KELPA) or get a high enough score on the English portion of the Kansas State Assessment. Then, students must show proficiency in their native or second language by taking the Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages (APPL).

Students who are native English speakers and have learned a second language through one of the many courses offered at the middle school and high school levels can also apply for a Seal of Biliteracy. 

As the district saw a surge in Seal of Biliteracy earnings, curriculum to help students earn the designation has continued a move toward helping students attain mastery, Kristin Ridgway, curriculum coordinator for secondary-level world language classes explained. 

““In the past, world language learning was more about conjugating verbs, filling out charts, and filling up graphs,” Ridgway added. “There’s more of a shift to what's called ‘comprehensible input,’ which means that our language teachers try to speak to you in the target language as much as possible.”

The language teachers and the real-world learning counselors at each of the respective high schools in the district work on finding students who would be strong candidates for the Seal of Biliteracy. After the students are identified, the teachers make sure that they are prepared and ready to take the two tests. 

SM West senior, Chelsea Trolle, earned a silver Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish and agrees that dual-language proficiency is invaluable, especially when interacting people who do not know or are learning English

“I believe that having this seal will make me more valuable to hire,” Trolle expressed. “I can be there for anyone who needs me.” 

Marelyn Rivas, senior at Shawnee Mission West also looks forward to potentially helping people with the language skills she has earned. She has already put these abilities to use by supporting an ELL class. 

“People who don’t speak English can feel so bad when they don’t understand,” Rivas added. “Now, I can go and help them,” said Marelyn Rivas, a senior at Shawnee Mission West.

Rivas has used her Gold Seal of Biliteracy to help students in her school by assisting in an ELL class.