Signed, Sealed, Delivered: District-Level Adoption of the Washington State Seal of Biliteracy
Burnet, Marta Mikkelsen
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Since 2012, over 25 states across the country have established State Seals of Biliteracy (SSB) for graduating high school students fluent in English and at least one other language. Though wording of these policies varies, they officially recognize bilingualism as desirable and beneficial for both the student and greater society. Yet, the Seals’ universal feature across the states is that district participation is both voluntary and unfunded. This project investigated what triggers a district to take on this additional administrative responsibility in the context of Washington State. Using Ruiz’s language policy orientations and diffusion of innovations theory, the project began with a statewide survey of districts with high schools to determine which had adopted the Seal thus far, and to compare Seal adopters and non-adopters on specific characteristics, including key actors in the decision-making process, demographics, and existing language offerings. The response rate was quite high, particularly for a web-based survey, with 114 of the 246 Washington school districts (46%) completing the survey. Quantitative analysis results of these data indicated that adopters were significantly more likely to have higher student enrollments (district size), higher percentages of English Language Learner enrollment, higher linguistic diversity, and were more likely to offer Seal-related language opportunities both in total and for each type of Seal criteria (i.e., world language competency credits (CCs), Advanced Placement world languages, an International Baccalaureate program, a Dual Language program, and four years of world languages). Based on the quantitative results, I then explored district level decision-making in terms of Seal adoption in-depth in four different districts – two early adopters of the Seal and two non-adopters – to shed light on the factors that led to the decision to adopt the Seal. In all four cases, the Seal was viewed as valuable for recognizing students’ bilingual skills, helping them in their post-high school plans, and supporting language minority students. Of the five factors related to speed of adoption (relative advantage, compatibility, observability, trialability, and complexity), observability, complexity, and compatibility played a role in all four districts. Observability emerged from district communication with other school districts that had adopted the Seal in 2015 to learn from their experiences. Complexity, typically an inverse relationship with adoption, was alleviated by the existence of a world language CC program that already tested language proficiency. In general, there was a blending of the Seal idea with that of the world language CCs. Compatibility of the Seal with districts came primarily in three forms, compatibility with a district’s world language CC program, a general identity as an innovative district, and to a lesser extent a pre-existing bilingual policy. And finally, all four cases utilized a collective decision-making approach at the district level.
- Education - Seattle