The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced Friday a new program to recognize students who are bilingual.
The Missouri Seal of Biliteracy will be "awarded by local school districts to graduating students who have proven a specific level of proficiency in English and any other world language, including sign languages," according to a DESE news release. "The graduating class of 2018 is the first class to be eligible for the program."
Ryan Rumpf, director of English Language Learners and World Languages at DESE, drafted the new policy.
Any student in the state is eligible to get the seal — not just publicly educated students.
"It'll be on the transcript," he said, adding districts can decide how they want to word the recognition. Some schools might also give a medal or certificate to students who earn the seal.
The second language students pick up in addition to English doesn't have to be one they learned in school, he said.
English language proficiency will be assessed by GPA and EOC tests, he added. Assessment options for other languages and what scores students need to earn a standard Missouri Seal or a Distinguished Missouri Seal are listed in the "Implementation Guide" at dese.mo.gov/college-career-readiness/curriculum/english-language-development/missouri-seal-biliteracy.
Students earn a standard seal by demonstrating an intermediate ability in another language, and an advanced proficiency earns a distinguished seal.
Rumpf said Navajo and other rare languages might not have standardized assessments available for students. "So for those exams, it would be, they'd have to put together some kind of portfolio to be assessed by experts in the community," experts who would then have to sign off on a student's ability.
Local school boards ultimately determine whether they wish to offer the awards to their students.
So far, Missouri State University, Missouri Southern State University and the University of Central Missouri have committed to offer 12 hours of credit to students who earn the Missouri Seal.
Rumpf said the kind of credit offered is for language or foreign language depending on the universities' preferences.
"We appreciate the support of Missouri businesses and these universities for this new opportunity for students," Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said in the news release. "We encourage others to make similar commitments to help better prepare our future workforce."
"Learning another language helps open new worlds and cultures for our students," Rumpf said in the news release. "We'd like to see many students take advantage of this opportunity to distinguish themselves as bilingual as they continue their education or begin a career."
He said it's hard to say how many current graduates are bilingual; there's no state education requirement, so that information would be on the school district level.
The National Center for Education Statistics estimated in the 2014-15 school year, 9.4 percent of public school students in the United States were English language learners — or about 4.6 million students.
At that time, Spanish was the home language of 77.1 percent of ELL students, with Arabic, Chinese and Vietnamese as the next most common.
Missouri also has strong German, Creole French and Serbo-Croat communities, according to a KBIA report from 2014 that used 2010 U.S. Census Data.